California’s Santa Barbara County has begun an innovative program in which economically disadvantaged students are given used computers so they can keep up with their wired classmates. Since its inception in 1997, the Computers for Families program has grown to encompass 24 elementary school classrooms and 800 families.

The program was started by a consortium of business, government, and educational groups in the area. In contrast to many programs that rely solely on volunteer help (and often fail to meeting objectives), the effort began with funding from Raytheon Corp. for a director, who then led a broad fund-raising effort. The director procured donated, used computers and software valued at $250,000, then coordinated the refurbishment of these machines. To date, more than 1,000 usable computers have been distributed. The program will be expanded this year due, in part, to a federal grant of $100,000.

After a successful initial pilot at one elementary school, the sponsors of the program created a training component as well. Parents and students must complete 12 hours of training before they are allowed to take the computers home. Teachers are trained to conduct the parent training, which enables them to cement relationships with parents.

When every student in a class has access to eMail and the internet, teachers can begin to communicate electronically with students and parents–knowing that no one is being left behind.

One unanticipated benefit: Many students in vocational and alternative education programs have become adept at fixing the computers and are now interested in pursuing high-tech careers.

Should You Hold School Board Meetings Online? abstracted from “Live Online: Webcasting School Board Meetings” by Robin Flanigan Electronic School, January 2001