"HELPING TO CLOSE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE AMONG LATINOS IN THE WASHINGTON COUNTY"
The Community Technology Project (CTP) is committed to develop and enhance the access to information technology and computer technology education for low-income Latinos so they can use it as apowerful tool toimprove the quality of their lives in this country. Centro Cultural’s ATP does this through a unique approach that is inviting, comfortable, enhancing and culturally adequate for this target population. We offer computer literacy courses to Latino families that have little or no computer skills and low or no English skills. The premise behind this is to demystify the idea that English is required before acquiring computer skills. In fact, computer technology could be used as a mighty learning tool that is far more efficient and engaging. Therefore, ATP constantly looks for ways, to effectively, incorporate existing software/hardware into our education, training and information programs. CTP also seeks to increase our community’s civic participation via technology.
THE DIGITAL DIVIDE IN WASHINGTON COUNTY
While the population in Washington County increased 46% between 1990 and 2000, the Latino population in the county increased by 245% from 14,401 to 49,735 (US census data 1990, 2000). Centro’s evaluation materials show that almost 95% of participants in their Adult Basic Education programs have not attended college. Less than 28% have even attended high school or its equivalent in their native countries. The majority of Latino families within the target area rely on one income derived from agricultural or nursery work. According to CASA of Oregon, the average income for families engaged in agricultural work, with one person working full time, is $15,500 annually. In contrast, Washington County accounts for 52% of Oregon’s High Tech jobs. The 1999 adjusted median family income in Washington County was $52,400. Clearly, Washington County finds itself in a “Tale of Two Cities” dynamic.
We are joining efforts with a myriad of local organizations to enhance awareness of technology among Latinos and to bridge the digital divide in the area. This effort aims to respond to the demands of our growing diverse community.
HISTORY OF OUR COMMUNITY TECHNOLOGY CENTER
In 1999, Centro established a computer lab, a cooperative project between the 4-H Web Wizards program Centro and Intel. This program was developed and sponsored by Intel and Oregon State Extension Service to address the high rate of high school dropouts among Hispanic students. In 2001 Centro secured a Department of Education Community Technology Center grant to expand and enhance this computer lab and establish partnerships with several other organizations. This project model has demonstrated ways to incorporate technology in the lives of poor people. It has grown to offer 8-9 computer classes a week at 5 different Community Technology Centers (CTC’s) in the vicinity. These classes are designed for Spanish-speaking individuals with low educational attainment. The courses range from beginning to intermediate computer literacy. At the end of 6 months, students that complete the classes, receive an achievement diploma.
For people on the other side of the digital divide, this might seem a meaningless achievement, but for immigrants who lack the language, and educational skills, and who face daunting cultural barriers and discrimination, this accomplishment has immeasurable consequences in their quest become better citizens and to contribute to their community. In 2001-2002, over 500 hundred students participated in one, or more computer courses at Centro Cultural. Despite the current economic challenges, we plan to duplicate our numbers and efforts towards our vision. This year, an Intel Corporation grant provides a base of support for the program.
ADELANTE CON TECNOLOGIA
Centro Cultural, Intel and other partners are working together to provide High Tech opportunities for Latinos in the area. This collaboration aims to increase technology awareness and to foster the use of online resources among the Latino Community in the Washington County Area. This coordinated pioneering effort will inevitably help prepare the increasing Latino labor pool for the demand of the local economy.