Exercising Citizenship: Crossing the Digital Divide to Provide Technology for a Local School
Every year at Rumsey Hall, the CT junior boarding and day school, a small group of seniors in the Challenge 20/20 class works together to find a local solution to one of the 20 global problems identified by the Global Issues Network. Through team-building activities and collaboration, the curriculum of this class focuses on defining community and the responsibilities of citizenship.
The students began their endeavor by examining various current global issues such as providing education for all, creating a massive step up against poverty, and improving our environmental impact through pollution reduction.
Then, the class decided on a project they felt would make the most impact in their current world. This year, the team of students tackled the issue of the digital divide—the disparity between individuals able to reap the benefits from the digital age and those who aren’t. When the pandemic forced students to learn from home last year, many children were unable to join their classes because of a lack of technology. The Challenge 20/20 class recognized this was a problem and set out to find a solution!
After carefully gathering information on how poverty affects education—in particular the ability to acquire a functioning device and reliable wifi—the Challenge 20/20 class decided to raise awareness and funds to help Community First School (CFS). CFS opened in the fall of 2020 and serves children in North Hartford’s federally designated Promise Zone neighborhoods. CFS states its mission as the following: “By partnering with community groups and implementing a whole-family care, relationship-based, and place-based program, CFS empowers children to own their greatness, and become passionate, independent learners able to compete, collaborate, and innovate in a diverse world.”
The Challenge 20/20 class chose a small local school in order to witness firsthand how children in their geographic region could be impacted. Tim Goodwin, the founder and director of Community First School, met with the Challenge 20/20 class, explained the school’s vision for growth, and virtually toured them through the school building.
“It was satisfying to finally connect with Community First School,” stated Avery Rubino ’21. “The director brought us into one of the classes and we actually got to see our efforts and the people that the project would affect.”
Goodwin explained that the school needed iPads for students to take with them outside the classroom. The school emphasizes hands-on learning and getting out into the environments beyond the school to learn. A mobile device is a portal for discovery to learn on field trips and anywhere the children go.
“The ‘digital divide’ is a global problem,” explained Indie Merrill ’21. “Working to help a school in Connecticut made me expand my thinking beyond our problem. By starting small—taking baby steps here at home—we can keep going to help countries that need technology all over the globe.”
The Challenge 20/20 students collaborated with each other and with Rumsey administration and faculty to develop action plans and execute their projects to improve life in the greater community.
Myles Crain noted how the team worked together to come up with a plan, saying “communication is the key ...the more we talked, the more we could find ways to help each other.”
The students then came up with a plan to communicate to the Rumsey parents and student body about the digital divide that CFS was facing. They created announcements, graphics, and videos to raise awareness and request donations for the local cause. Then, they collected donations and sold snacks on campus to raise funds for the iPads.
“Taking a project like this from just an idea all the way to the end is harder than it seems,” explained Charleigh Newman ’21. “There were a lot of tasks we completed that we didn’t know had to be done; but in the end, we figured out how to solve the problems that came up.”
All in all, the Challenge 20/20 class raised $840 to secure iPads for CFS to use inside and outside of the classroom.
“This project was a lot of work; but, it was worth it to be part of something that made people aware of the problem,” Junho Lee ’21 stated. “The group went through an evolution. At first, it took some time to narrow down our vision, but we started figuring out what to do, and who should do what based on their strengths. There are more problems out there we need to solve...and I can contribute to other projects about what worked well and what didn’t.”
Craig Ough, Rumsey Hall Director of Social-Emotional Learning and the teacher/mentor of the Challenge 20/20 class, congratulated the students on their efforts, stating:
“These results are the culmination of the work you started a long time ago. Now you can better understand the nuances of entrepreneurship and how to make deep effective changes. You're more empowered as you go on to your next places in life. These are the lessons you can take with you wherever you go. I’m really proud of you.”
The Challenge 20/20 students hope to connect with CFS in the future and possibly visit the school once pandemic restrictions are lifted. The experience taught them that using their voice can enact change, and from here, they can continue to empower themselves to take action wherever they go.