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‘Tech Saturdays’ At Rutgers University, Newark, Will Teach Computer Skills, Provide PCs, To Families

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(NEWARK, N.J., April 5, 2010) – An innovative community partnership between Rutgers University, Newark Public Schools and the Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA) New Jersey Chapter aims to bridge the digital divide for Newark young people and their families. The program will use a combination of hands-on computer instruction and access to the internet to reach Newark families who normally are technologically isolated, with no in-home access to computers or the internet.

Rutgers-Newark Tech Saturdays will begin as a six-session pilot project from April 10 through May 15, with 13 families – one adult and one child from each – participating for free. The children will be selected from 7th , 8th and 9th-grade classes in Newark public schools. The four-hour Saturday classes will be taught in a Rutgers computing lab by volunteers from Rutgers and NJBDPA New Jersey. A Rutgers student will be assigned to mentor each of the NPS pupils. The goal: computer-literate students and families whose skills include leveraging online informational resources, creating documents through word-processing, and using e-mail. At the end of the program, each family will receive a refurbished laptop computer donated by Prudential Financial through NJBDPA New Jersey.

“Urban communities suffer disproportionately from lack of access to the knowledge and tools of the digital world,” explains Marcia W. Brown, vice chancellor for student and community affairs. “Digital literacy is a necessity — not an option — for urban residents to meet the realities and challenges of 21st century communication.” What’s more, Brown notes, it is as important for parents to be digitally literate as it is for their children. “The internet is a valuable asset for all ages, in terms of health, employment and consumer resources, and to use it effectively you need to be able to find, evaluate and synthesize on-line information.”

Joanne C. Bergamotto, Newark Public Schools Regional Superintendant, East/Central District, also pointed out that “the Internet is changing the traditional styles of citizen participation as we have known it in the past. As we introduce technology skills to our families with the Rutgers’ partnership, our focus is to build a strong sense of community among citizens who have had no experience utilizing this resource.” She noted that the Tech Saturday project “will allow our families to become acquainted with the plethora of resources available to them to become self sufficient in technology usage and to assist them in making choices for their children with proper guidance in using the internet. This use of technology will hopefully promulgate a civic engagement steeped in cultural, social, educational and political savvy so that they could be contributing citizens of our society.” Bergamotto emphasized, however, that “student and parent learning is the foremost priority, and technology is only a means to that end.”

The Tech Saturdays project was inspired by a Rutgers-Newark student’s work with a similar program at another school. While interning for William Jefferson Clinton Foundation, Kevin Keogh volunteered at Harlem’s Children’s Storefront School in a program designed to give families an overview of computer use. The political science major wrote about his experiences on the Foundation’s website; Brown read his story and was intrigued. After meeting with Kevin to learn more, Brown decided to develop a similar, but more in-depth program, at Rutgers-Newark. Keogh, an Edison, N.J., resident, hopes he can play a role in the R-N program. “I would love to be involved in any way t hat I can be useful,” he said.
Brown felt Rutgers’ involvement in digital literacy for the community was a natural fit. “We already had the resources: our Abbott Leadership Institute works with parents on our campus; the Educational Opportunity Fund programs mentor high school students, and our John Cotton Dana Library and Rutgers-Newark Computing Services have the know-how to bring knowledge to the table. Using volunteers from the campus, we thought we could run the project fairly inexpensively but effectively,” she notes.

Rutgers found the perfect implementation partner in the NJBDPA New Jersey and its president Coram Rimes, who works at Prudential Financial in Newark. NJBDPA New Jersey strives to effect positive social change, and uses technology education and awareness toward that goal. Last year the group held its sixth annual Families in Technology (FIT) Day at Rutgers-Newark, and from that evolved the alliance with Rutgers for the Tech Saturdays project. Rutgers-Newark also will host this year’s FIT event on May 22 in the Paul Robeson Campus Center.

Rimes is both teaching one of the Tech Saturday sessions and moderating several others, and also arranged the donation of the ThinkPad computers by his employer. Rimes, who earned his Master in Public Administration at Rutgers-Newark, also considers his volunteerism with Tech Saturdays as “an opportunity to give back to the University.”

This program is another way that Rutgers is striving to address “real world needs in the community,” notes Brown. “We want to create models that offer effective solutions and can be replicated. In this case, a new curriculum has been developed with distinctive lesson plans for parents and students. That’s never been done before.”

The university’s new partnership with NJBDPA New Jersey. also opens up a new source of resources that it can leverage for assisting the Newark community, according to Brown, while exposing Newark students and their parents to the campus and its facilities, encouraging them to consider Rutgers Newark as a destination campus.

About Rutgers University, Newark
Rutgers-Newark is home to the Newark College of Arts and Sciences, University College, the Graduate School-Newark, Rutgers Business School-Newark and New Brunswick, the School of Law-Newark, the College of Nursing, the School of Criminal Justice, the School of Public Affairs and Administration, and extensive research and outreach centers, including the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience. Approximately 12,000 students are currently enrolled in a wide range of undergraduate and graduate degree programs offered at the 38-acre downtown Newark campus.

About the Newark Public Schools
The Newark Public Schools District is the largest and one of the oldest school systems in New Jersey. The District serves approximately 40,000 students in 75 schools ranging from pre- kindergarten to twelfth grade; and employs approximately 7,500 staff in school facilities and Central Office.

About BDPA New Jersey
BDPA is a global, member focused organization that positions its members at the forefront of the IT industry. The mantra of BDPA is ‘From the Classroom, to the Board room’. The New Jersey chapter was established in 1981 under the National organization which has been in existence since 1975. For more information on BDPA New Jersey and chapter events visit their website at www.bdpanewjersey.org.

Members of the media interested in covering this program should contact Carla Capizzi, 973/353-5263, or email: capizzi@rutgers.edu.