Pat Sasse says that scores of families in Howard County lack computers in the home, leaving parents to follow up a long day of work with an evening spent at libraries, hoping their children have enough time to do homework on public computers that are in high demand.
As executive director of the Howard-based Bright Minds Foundation, the county school system's nonprofit organization, Sasse is now in the proces of locating some of those families. Bright Minds is partnering with Capital One Bank and Columbia-based systems integrator Gantech to give 25 students from Harper's Choice, Murray Hill and Oakland Mills middle schools refurbished, Internet-ready laptops, complete with new printers, flash drives, security software and Microsoft Office software.
Students will receive the equipment at a workshop Dec. 10. The gift is made twice annually by Bright Minds, which has donated about 350 computers to families since its inception five years ago.
Sasse said Bright Minds was created to bolster the school system's effort to provide support for Howard County students. The organization also provides grants for county teachers.
"The idea is that the school system obviously has a budget, and they use their budget to meet their mission, but there are things that their budget doesn't cover," said Sasse. She added that schools Superintendent Sydney Cousin, who serves on the organization's board of directors, has stressed the need to target the county's "digital divide."
"In Howard County, if you don't have digital technology, you're not going to take advantage of this great educational system that you're in," Sasse added. "We are looking for children whose families could not provide technology for them to use."
Murray Hill Middle School Assistant Principal Andrea Harmon says students delight in being selected for the equipment.
"Bright Minds is providing a wonderful opportunity for families to have access to technology," said Harmon. "It's only going to enhance children's performances in school, because they have the resources they need at home."
Initially, she said, the organization looked at schools with high percentages of students on free and reduced-price meals programs. Ultimately, she said, it has targeted practically every middle school in the Howard system.
"The board decided to focus on middle school students because it thought it would be difficult to reach high school without having computers," Sasse said, "and it wanted to make sure that people who are going to high school had the technology background needed beforehand."
The students will be offered technical training by Gantech and financial literacy training from Capital One.
Sasse says she often hears later from families who receive the computers. Students tell her they are more motivated to do homework. Parents use the school system's online resources to see what assignments are available and whether their children are completing them. Families who speak little or no English, she says, delight in having access to information in non-English languages readily available. "And this is a family computer," she said, "so we know we are touching siblings as well. There is more than one child taking advantage of this."
Sasse said the organization does not track students' academic progress with the computers, but she added, "We know that a major difference is being made in the way these children are now being able to do their homework and their research projects."