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Students make digital connection to community

Colleges and UniversitiesHigh SchoolsSchoolsFinancial AidMedia IndustryCoppin State University

After school three days a week, Alexis Corbin, 16, a junior at Carver Vocational-Technical High School, walks the short distance to Coppin State University. There, she and 10 other students participate in the Comcast Digital Connectors Program at the Coppin Heights-Rosemont Family Computer Center on campus.

They learn about computers, financial literacy and leadership, and in turn bring their knowledge to the community, by leading classes on such topics as how to use social media, operate cell phones or create website pages.

Alexis said she signed up for the program because she is interested in computers, and because she enjoys teaching others. "As we know, people who are older than us don't know how to use technology," she said.

Comcast launched the Digital Connectors Program in 2009 with the goal of helping young adults, particularly from low-income families, learn about computers and software, and pass the knowledge on to others in their communities.

Each high school student in the program must agree to donate 57 hours of volunteer time by leading classes, tutoring students and otherwise sharing their knowledge. The classes are taught at the computer center, which opened in June 2010 with a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce. It is open to the public and serves as a community resource where people can use the computers and take the trianing and education programs it offers.

Coppin State University started its Digital Connectors program in 2010, and this year received a grant of $25,000 from the Comcast Foundation.

"Comcast has a vested interest in providing young people every opportunity to be prepared for the future," explained Donna Rattley Washington, regional vice president of government and community affairs for Comcast, in an email. "We are committed to ensuring young people throughout the Baltimore area have access to the tools they need to succeed."

Robin Butler, who leads the program at the Coppin Heights-Rosemont Family Computer Center, said more than 25 students have graduated the program since it was founded, and this year 11 are enrolled. She gives her program a slightly different theme each year. In 2010, all participants were high school freshmen from Coppin Academy High School. Last year, all but one of the students were seniors, and they all went on to college, she said.

This year, the 11 participating students were recruited from five nearby high schools: Coppin Academy, Carver Vocational-Technical High School, Career Academy, Youth Opportunity Academy and Northwestern High School.

The program began in September. Students come in Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, she said. They are currently focused on financial literacy, learning about keeping budgets, balancing checkbooks and the merits of owning versus renting. But they also learn how to create a curriculum, put together a portfolio with a resume, create spread sheets and balance budgets.

Comcast provides the curriculum, but Alexis said she likes the way Butler breaks down complex concepts so they are easier to understand. The student-taught classes are advertised at the computer center, and participants can sign up online, said Butler. They are free, and typically led by two high school students, with one doing most of the talking and the other walking around and helping the adults taking the class, said Butler.

After a lifetime of being taught by adults, Alexis said teaching people who are older than her "is different," but she feels confident sharing what she knows.

Alexis said she is currently on her high school's honor roll, and she believes the structure of the Comcast program, with so much time in the computer lab, has helped her. Plus, she said, "me and my friends just want to help the community."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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