Boys & Girls Clubs of America Goes High-Tech

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Today's students are more tech-savvy than ever, and the opportunities to grow and learn from technology are endless. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America (www.bgca.org) recognized this potential in their 3.3 million nationwide members and developed Club Tech, an ongoing initiative that equips their clubs with computers and technology applications.

Club Tech provides a space for members — over half of whom don't have home computers or Internet access — to practice and perfect the computer skills they learn at school. It also gives children a place to further pursue their interests that are not taught in school. Whereas school computer usage is often structured and time limited, youths at the clubs have the opportunity to explore on their own, says Ed Mishrell, vice president of technology programs for BGCA. "Young people in the clubs have the opportunity to create projects using technology starting with their own interests."

Technology seemed to be one of the best new ways to provide life-enhancing and character-developing experiences to underprivileged children in the clubs. With the help of Microsoft, BGCA has already technologically enabled half of the 3,300 clubs in the United States and its territories.

In developing the program, BGCA had a few points to consider. For one, the programs needed to be easy for the staff to implement and maintain. They also decided to survey the club members to find out what activities most interested them. The resulting programs include an Internet safety application featuring Shaquille O'Neal, word processing and spreadsheet programs, as well as digital arts activities.

While the projects in Club Tech might sound entertaining, they are not lacking in educational value. One such activity involves creating a personalized sports card in which the youths learn to use a digital camera, software to manipulate their photos, word processing to create their biographies and a spreadsheet to determine their statistics, says Mishrell.

The true value of the program, however, is that club members can further develop the skills they learn in school, earning themselves better success academically and later in life. Technology, which until recently seemed outside the club's reach, is now a reality for BGCA members. "When all this technology first appeared, we were not sure what to make of it," says Mishrell. "Now, in many communities, it is the young people at the clubs who know the most about computers."

— Annamaria DiGiorgio

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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