May 24, 2000 2 min read

Bridging the Divide: WorldCom and Brown University have partnered to launch a $5 million initiative to bridge the so-called digital divide in places like Springfield, Mo., where many schoolchildren not only lack access to updated computers, but also are so behind the technology curve that they lack telephones in their own homes.

WorldCom, which is based in Clinton, Miss., and the university, which is in Providence, R.I., unveiled the five-year project last week.

As part of the project, grants were announced for 20 programs nationwide that aim to expose poor students to technology in school settings, said Brooke Beaird, the associate director of Campus Compact, the group that is implementing the grants through the university. Each of the programs chosen will receive more than $200,000 over the five-year period.

Various community members, business leaders, and college students will help about 6,000 children, Mr. Beaird said.

The concept behind the grants is to utilize the skills of adults to aid students in mastering technology.

“This effort brings together community groups, the private sector, higher education, and schools to help build stronger, more vibrant communities,” said Jonathan B. Sallet, the chief policy counsel for WorldCom. “Our purpose is to improve learning through technology, not just through the provision of hardware and software, but by teaching students to use technology to learn and thrive in today’s technology-rich environment.”

Projects include the development of an online newspaper written by youths in Hampshire, Mass., an international pen pal exchange based in Dayton, Ohio, and a public-history initiative in Mount Hope, R.I.

“We are enthusiastic about this program because it will help communities raise a generation of students who can not only use technology, but can use it to improve their own neighborhoods,” said Elizabeth Hollander, the executive director of Campus Compact.

The effort is a “godsend,” said Debra McDowell, the director of citizenship and service learning at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield. Ms. McDowell wrote the grant proposal for a program that will help more than 600 students in the city’s public schools learn to use computers and the Internet.

“A lot of these children have no concept of what computerization or technology is all about,” she said. “This allows us to get computers into some of the [poorest] schools.”

—Julie Blair

A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 2000 edition of Education Week