Computers shrink the achievement gap

Tallahassee City Commissioner Andrew Gillum, is spearheading the second annual Digital Harmony Pilot Program, where 230 free computers were distributed to sixth graders at R. Frank Nims Middle School.

The program was established to close the digital divide between students of high and low economic backgrounds, and ensure that the students would receive all the necessary tools they need to be successful in the academic environment.

“Nims Middle School was the only failing public school at that time, here in Leon County. It’s unacceptable to have a failing school period, but we made it more unique because the students lacked a lot of means,” Gillum said. “So it was easy to identify Nims Middle School as the school we wanted to pour our resources into.”

Christopher Smalls, Nims’ academic coach, held three different sessions that explained proper computer care. He also went over how parents and students may obtain access to their children’s grades and how to pay their bills on-line.

The program is for incoming sixth graders. It provided them with a free computer and three year warranty, as well as Internet access donated by Comcast Cable so they could continue their learning at home, Gillum said.

While only 45 percent of parents participated last year, the program coordinators expect about 80 to 90 percent this year.

“Attendance was an issue last year. Our communication wasn’t right,” said James Stamm, chief operations officer of Go Beyond LLC.

“We didn’t send the right message to the community so they could respond, but the students seem more aware this year,” Stamm said.

According to Stamm, there was a better turnout this year because the program has momentum, and because it’s starting a month into the school semester. “The program is a part of Nims now, so right now I think we’re running optimally,” Stamm said.

Companies like Comcast Cable, Hewlett Packard, Go Beyond Foundation and TalTech Alliance, helped to contribute to the success of the program. Florida A&M University has also been a partner and sponsor for this initiative.

The university gave a sizeable donation last year towards the first year of implementation and this year, they are contributing $10,000 towards the project, said Angela G. Whitaker, Gillum’s aide.

Charlene Jones, sixth grade parent and Florida A&M University graduate student, said the program is a good idea.

“I think the program is awesome, it is a great opportunity for the school and my child to better herself with her academic work,” Jones said. “I tell her all the time, that she has to appreciate it because every school doesn’t have these opportunities.”