by Danielle Goldfarb-Bedrick
NYC Parks Computer Resource Centers (CRC’s), New York City, USA
For the past 13½ years I have been a technology educator at a recreation center that is located in a part of New York City that is considered “isolated” due to the fact that it’s on a peninsula and transportation outside of the peninsula is very limited, so much to the fact that there is only one train system and two bus systems that run in and out of the area. Even with this knowledge, I would always find it odd that when we were able to have field trips for our afterschool youth to other parts of New York City, the children would be in complete awe of their surroundings. It was as though they were visiting a foreign country for the very first time, taking in the sights, people, making notes mentally of what they saw and did whilst there. It was after such field trips that I developed an Email Pal Project within the Parks & Recreation Computer Resource Centers.
The concept was for our children to pair off with other peers and have a general email exchange. The first year there was no set curriculum and the goal was only to work on the technology, literacy, and reading comprehension. It was a huge success. We had a total of 20 children participating from each center and had paired them off with counterparts in the borough of Manhattan. Each child (with parental permission) was given their own free email address (we had used the Yahoo! email at the time). The program had run for a total of 6 months meeting once per week for an hour and a half.
Our recreation center is located in an area of New York City that is known for its low literacy rates, this program had helped immensely by reinforcing vocabulary, reading skills, reading confidence (reading better out loud to a group of peers), and reading comprehension. To personally see firsthand a positive increase in literacy skills in a child is as though we’ve given them a gift that they can use to get ahead in life. It made me feel secure as an educator that these children will be prepared not only to move onto the next level of learning but also to have more potential and to have a secure future of success.
Of course this program developed technology skills. Each school year that we ran this program, I saw that the children who had poor or limited technology skills and through this program they are able to improve upon them, whether it be learning how to type, do basic internet searches for information, composing and sending an email, putting together a video or slide show as part of a project and then attaching it to an email were all necessary skills for a child to know how to do. The look on a child’s face when they learn something technology related that they didn’t know before is priceless to see and it makes them not only want to learn more but it enriches their overall life as well.
This type of program would not only work well for children but also with older individuals as well. We all realize as educators that technology leads the future and why not open every opportunity to individuals of every age.