DENVER, Colo. (July 26, 2018) – Studies have shown that for families with an average income of $50,000 or less there is only a 20% chance of having a computer and home internet. For families earning over $50,000, the likelihood is 80%. With homework being assigned online by seven in 10 teachers, the absence of a home computer and connectivity creates a “homework gap” for disadvantaged students. In Denver, more than 52,000 households, predominantly in the north and west areas of the city, do not have an internet subscription.
Recognizing the need to bridge this digital divide, the City and County of Denver’s Technology Services Department (TS) led a pilot effort called Homework Home during the 2016-2017 school year. Homework Home was developed as part of the Governmental Entrepreneurial Leadership Accelerator (GELA), a program facilitated by the University of Colorado Boulder that promotes innovative problem solving to affect policy change.
In collaboration with PCs for People and Mobile Beacon, TS provided free computers and Internet hotspot devices to students at Compass Academy. The charter school within Lincoln High School became a key partner, and of the 240 sixth and seventh graders, 75% of them were English language learners, 93% were Hispanic, and 95% received free or reduced lunches. Of those students, 95 of them chose to receive computers and 53 received hotspots.
Reflecting on the initial partnership between the City and County of Denver and PCs for People during GELA, Emily Silverman, past GELA fellow and current Denver Smart City Program Manager at the City and County of Denver, said, “We really enjoyed working with PCs for People. They have an incredible mission, and we loved that they are in the community offering continued support.”
PCs for People is a nonprofit social enterprise focused on bridging the digital divide by delivering affordable computers and Internet connectivity to low-income families and students. Mobile Beacon provides high-speed, low-cost, mobile internet access to the anchors of communities: the nonprofits, schools, libraries, and healthcare organizations that provide vital services to millions of Americans every day.
“We are proud to partner with the City and County of Denver to bring Homework Home to disadvantaged students and their families,” said PCs for People Denver Executive Director Julie Seltz. “Providing computers and access to today’s technology not only impacts their future, but also benefits the great community in which we all live and work.”
The Homework Home pilot effort derived from GELA, which includes the CU Boulder School of Law Innovation Center-Silicon Flatirons, the State, City and County of Denver, and City of Boulder. It was based on the concept that one can use innovation and understand start-up culture under a different lens by leveraging an entrepreneurial mindset within government to improve city service and to increase connections with people and make their lives better.
The idea of using innovation to make a city better is not a new concept to Emily Silverman, who has been working with the community at the City and County of Denver for over seven years. Describing her current role as program manager for Denver Smart City, Emily states, “We are always looking to partner with community champions such as PCs for People, using data to make our city better, which includes enabling access to technology and computers to ensure that those who are struggling the most have the resources and tools to create a system where they succeed.”
The partnership has continued past the Homework Home pilot. In the summer of 2017, the City and County of Denver partnered with PCs for People and the University of Denver’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning to host Photovoice, an innovative engagement program for teens from North Denver. The community-based approach to documentary photography put cameras into the hands of local residents and allowed the Denver teens to visually tell their story.
“Photovoice is about connecting people, through photography, to city leaders,” stated Silverman. “We have the opportunity to see Denver’s communities and neighborhoods through the lens of those who live there. Engaging people, in a meaningful way, who have in the past been marginalized or underrepresented, simply because of where they grew up or the language they speak.”
This year, Denver Smart City, in partnership with Vision Zero and Walk Denver, hosted another Photovoice project in West Denver, where PCs for People is located, and where some of the largest disparities in the homework gap have been identified. PCs for People’s computer donations were used during the workshops and received by residents for their engagement and participation.
“We love how this partnership with PCs for People has allowed us, as a local government entity, to extend our reach and impact for Denver,” Silverman enthused. “We have become boosters for PCs for People because it is an organization that makes an impact and the balance of our partnership is mutually-beneficial, allowing the both of us to succeed in the goals we have set with the community.”
About PCs for People
PCs for People’s mission is to provide access to technology to underserved populations. Founded in 1998, the nonprofit organization has distributed over 60,000 computers and connected thousands of families to low-cost Internet options. Their services include free end-of-life IT asset management and certified data sanitization, technology refurbishing, computer distribution, computer repair, Internet service, tech education, and free electronic recycling. For more information on PCs for People, or if you’re interested in learning how you can receive a computer, please call 720-278-7725 or visit: www.pcsforpeople.org.