Parents are sometimes bewildered by the online tools used by the school system to communicate with them, and puzzled by the way their children use social media. But parents in five schools recently took advantage of a pilot program to help them. Speaking at the program’s launch event made me think about the impact of online technology on my own life.
The program is called POWER, an acronym for Parents Operating with Educational Resources, and it was organized by Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, the Knight School of Communication at Queens University, and Digital Charlotte.
When I was in my early 20s, as a single parent living in subsidized housing in Charlotte, I was enrolled in a job training program organized by the City of Charlotte. We were also receiving some county services like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), to assist with meals. I was not as equipped as I needed to be before I became a parent.
A technology class in that job program changed my life. This was a year-long curriculum, back when the industry was transitioning out of a mainframe environment. Before I finished the program, I had job offers. Similar transitions are happening now, because technology is always moving. The change creates demand for new skills, and that demand can take you from point A to point Z rapidly.
Some of the point A to point Z, for me, was getting my first job. I was out of subsidized housing in less than six months. I was in a nice market-rent apartment, but realized that ownership was a better way to go. Within a year I purchased my first home. I want people to be encouraged, not to boast of my situation, but to know how seizing one opportunity can make a difference.
Knowledge is power. Knowledge is now on the internet, and it’s not always in a book. It’s important to have the internet at home, but about 20 percent of Charlotte residents don’t have internet at home, or a computing device.
A program like POWER strengthens the education of our children, but it also benefits the education and economic mobility of parents. A low-cost internet subscription through EveryoneOn costs $10 a month, and a refurbished laptop computer, which was free for parents who completed the POWER program and didn’t miss any classes, will enable them to do so many things to support them economically. They’ll be able to go online and find out, when they need a vehicle, what they should really be paying. Whether it’s a private party value or trade-in value. Never retail.
I like real-life examples. My youngest son did SAT preparatory work on a computer, and he got eight acceptance letters just by raising his SAT score. Now he’s 30 and a graduate of North Carolina State. Today, children have College Board prep available from Khan Academy, free of charge. So children can start SAT prep when they’re in middle school, and when it’s time to apply for college, some of our Connect 2 College students’ scores have improved by more than 100 points.
The internet came along in a big way right after I accepted my first job. I remember an email notification from an airline with $200 round-trip flights to Europe. Round-trip, $200 to Gatwick Airport in London. The farthest I had traveled at that point was when I hoped my car would make it to Myrtle Beach. We’d buy provisions there, because we couldn’t eat out, and pray that the car would hold itself together to get back. That was the only way my kids were going to get a vacation. When I saw the $200 airline tickets I said, ‘I can do that’ and I bought four airline tickets on my new credit card. A whole family went to England.
Families need to realize that these opportunities are real. England was exciting, but everyday opportunities are available online, too, like learning how to fix faucets, or swap out light fixtures to save money. Or how to build skills in sewing or baking into a new secondary income.
Teachers and administrators use email and other online resources to connect with parents. They’re not difficult, but some people don’t have online connections or equipment. These tools are so important.
Knowledge is power. All of this is education driven, and it opens up a whole new world of mobility for many parents. It’s a matter of a device and some connectivity and knowledge of how to navigate. Simple stuff, but it’s so powerful.
J’Tanya Adams, Mid-Atlantic regional director for EveryoneOn.org, presented the keynote speech at the February launch of the POWER program (photo above.) The program won the 2018 Blue Diamond Award for business value in a non-profit organization.