Techmobile: Collaborative Effort Brings Technology to Youth and Underserved Communities in Seattle

REDMOND, Wash., May 15, 2000 — The Boys & Girls Clubs of King County call it the “Community Computer Access Solution of the New Millennium.” Seattle-area kids will soon know it as the Techmobile, a traveling lab that will hit the road in about two weeks to provide computer access to children aged 6 to 18 who live in King County communities underserved by technology.

The Techmobile will visit underserved communities throughout King County.

The project is a collaborative effort among Microsoft and other technology companies, the City of Seattle, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

“In response to the digital divide that has been created between those communities that have access to technology and those that don’t, we’ve partnered with Microsoft to create this exciting program,” said Rae Stacy, Boys & Girls Clubs’ Techmobile director.

Microsoft donated $70,000 in cash plus an additional software grant to help equip the Techmobile. The Microsoft contribution is part of a larger $1.6 million corporate grant to create technology centers at 15 clubs nationally.

The Techmobile will stop at public-housing developments, community centers, schools and rural areas where no technology programs for young people exist. Twelve young people at a time are able to participate, at no charge.

The Techmobile offers comprehensive classes in the basics of Microsoft Office 2000, Encarta 2000, the World Wide Web and various multimedia technologies. The classes will provide job-readiness skills, basic skills in math and spelling, homework assistance and training in desktop publishing. Sample learning projects include personal and club Web site development and various online research projects.

Techmobile’s goal is to “introduce technology to youth in an inspiring setting,” said Stacy — especially for children in low-income and minority communities, and for those who have limited English-language skills.

Built on the chassis of a 30-foot motor home, the cutting-edge technology center includes a Gateway server running Windows NT, eight Gateway computer workstations, four Gateway laptops with wireless connectivity, two Sony digital cameras, a Hewlett-Packard laser printer and a ViewSonic projector. Donated Microsoft software for the vehicle includes Office 2000, Encarta Reference Suite 2000, Encarta Africana 2000, Bookshelf 2000 and a variety of educational games.

The Techmobile also has a DirectPC satellite dish that enables the vehicle to provide Internet connection without being physically connected to a telephone line. Outgoing requests for Web pages traverse an AT & T Wireless Cellular digital packet modem, which transfers the data requests at 19.2 kilobits per second (kbps).

Web pages are then delivered through the satellite link at up to 400 kbps-about four times faster than an Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) connection. As a result, young users are not frustrated by long delays while pages download.

The vehicle will make its stops in scheduled, 30- to 90-minute time blocks. During fall, winter and spring mornings, it will be available by request to visit adults who attend English-as-a-second-language programs and to people who are transitioning into work outside the home.

On some weekends, the Techmobile will be stationed at community centers, fairs and special events where the vehicle will be used to introduce users to the power of the Internet and other computing technologies, and to promote additional club education programs.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of King County, which have been at the forefront of youth development programs since 1942, will oversee the management of the Techmobile. Today, the King County clubs serve more than 17,000 children annually, making them the largest Boys & Girls Clubs organization in the nation. As director of the Techmobile project, Rae Stacy will create and implement curriculum, recruit participants and schedule service locations. She will also drive the Techmobile.

“The Techmobile empowers Seattle’s youth to reach into their future, beyond the pre-existing walls of clubhouses and buildings,” Stacy said.

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