As students prepare to start the school day, logging into a device is now as common as having a desk full of freshly sharpened pencils.
But in Pensacola, many kids don’t have a device or broadband connection to get home and practice.
Cox Communications is helping level the playing field for kids ages 6 to 18 by partnering with Boys & Girls Clubs of the Emerald Coast to launch the new $20,000 Cox Technology Innovation Lab that was unveiled Wednesday at the Pensacola Club in Englewood.
Cox’s staff hopes the talented lab-device programs, ranging from desktops and laptops to 3D printers, will give children exposure to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities and digital literacy skills that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.
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Then, in turn, the hope is for children to educate their family members who may not be comfortable using technology in day-to-day life, such as updating a resume or scheduling a bill payment online.
“Technology is expensive. It’s like playing an expensive sport. Unfortunately, you have to have the money to be able to do that,” said Shervin Rassa, CEO of Boys & Girls Club. “For kids to be on an equal footing right now, they need to know these things. but also when they are adults who want to work”.
Rassa added: “I’m glad that through our partnership, we are able to expose our children to this every day.”
Not only will children have access to programs that teach them the basics, such as mouse skills, troubleshooting, and online safety, but the lab team will provide them with projects to work on that may spark professional interest later. Children choose their own exploration topics, in subjects such as animation, audio production, color theory and coding.
“Our mission truly is to impact the young lives of the children who need us most and inspire them to become productive, responsible, caring and responsible citizens,” Rassa said.
Staff members like Sam Roberts, the IT director of the Costa Smeralda Boys & Girls Club, monitor the children’s activity and take inventory of their interests. Kids can also view projects their peers have created online and comment on them using emojis.
“It works like a safe social network for kids,” Roberts said.
David Deliman, vice president of markets for Cox Communications, said the lab was a natural way to give back to the community and help build digital equity.
“The sooner we can instill these skills and resources in students, the better,” she said. “The Boys and Girls Club is a really good partner because they work every day with these kids who don’t always have the advantages that other kids have. This helps them stay on the same level and get a level playing field so they can be competitive.”
Deliman noted that the company also works to help provide affordable Internet access to help low-income families, even those without children, through programs like Connect2Compete and the Convenient connectivity program.
“What we see, particularly with the Connect2Compete program, are families who have never been online at home — they get connectivity for the baby, for school, for homework or whatever — but then the mom applies for a new work. She has to go online to do that. Dad might update his resume or want to book a telehealth appointment. This connectivity supports the whole family.