By Christina Rose
In recent years, schools have struggled to keep up with the best technology education can offer for their Latino students due to state-wide budget cuts and a weak economy. But this year, at least one Connecticut town has begun to see a turnaround. Emphasis on technology has returned to the forefront in Danbury schools, which has a 40 percent Latino student population.
According to Deputy School Superintendent Dr. William Glass. “We went through a horrible time, but it’s starting to come back.” Danbury’s school district has one of the most diverse student populations in the state and is categorized as a poverty district. Students speak 42 different languages in the school, the average family in Danbury earns $30,000, and almost half of the students are eligible for the free lunch program. Keeping all of Danbury’s students equally educated is no easy feat.
The school district has long struggled with outdated technology and old laptops. “We can’t ask teachers to add data, to put programs on, or show video in other languages if our computers can’t do that,” Glass said.
The city recognized the lack of technology kept the failing schools from improving and this year received a technology bond. Glass said that by September, almost all of the teachers will have new laptops.
Besides the schools, Danbury has other options to keep Latino students current with technology. The Danbury Library has an extensive media center with a multitude of Spanish language programs. The Literacy Center also offers extra-curricular science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs to both students and adults, and caters to the 15 percent of Danbury’s total population that is Latino.
“We have Saturday Academy programs that have a technology piece to them,” said Anne Mead, administrator of Early Childhood Education and Extended Learning Programs.
What’s more, nearly half of those who use services at The Literacy Center are Latino. “Technology is available in many of Danbury’s after-school programs. Most of the students at the elementary and middle school level have access to iPads, and a lot of the programs are literacy based now,” Coordinator of Family Literacy Loren Daly said.
According to Mead, a survey of the community found that 76 percent of families have some form of internet-based equipment in their home. “For some it’s the iPhone, for some it’s a computer. We had 18 adults here to teach them technical skills and we started out sharing laptops,” she said. “By the time we were done with the program, everybody brought in a lap top. Many already had them but were afraid to use them until they became proficient.”
For the 24 percent who do not have home access to the internet, Danbury’s media centers are open to the public. “They can come here if they don’t know how to use it,” Mead said. “Our after-school programs help these kids get their homework done.”
Ingrid Alvarez-DiMarzo, executive director of Danbury’s Hispanic Center, said that many low-income families living close to the poverty line lack access to technology. She explained, “Socioeconomic status has very much to do with whether or not a child has access to technology in the home.”
Alvarez-DiMarzo referenced a report from the Pew Hispanic Center, “Closing the Digital Divide: Latinos and Technology Adoption”, which states that 95 percent of Latinos with an annual income of $50,000 or more own a desktop computer. However, 51 percent of Latinos who lack a high school diploma are less likely to have access to technology at home.
Despite whether or not students have access to technology at home, Glass said that Latino students fare well within the schools’ language programs. “Our schools have smart technology, Promethean boards, Mimeo boards, programs so we can show a word and translate. There are language acquisition and transition programs on our laptops for all ages.”
But according to Glass, there is nothing better than the old fashioned, low-tech ear training for language acquisition.
“Once your ear gets trained, you go from, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’ to translating in your head, to all of a sudden you are thinking in the language,” Glass said. “You will see kids in the magnet schools after six years, the fifth graders will start a sentence in English and end it in Spanish, and the other kids are following right along.”
(Photo by fickingerbrad via Flickr)