Apple’s iPads Open Up New Worlds for Kids at East Oakland Youth Development Center

A student plays with an iPad donated by Apple during a summer class at the East Oakland Youth Development Center in Oakland, Calif. (PHOTO CREDIT: Jessica Guynn, USA TODAY)
A student plays with an iPad donated by Apple during a summer class at the East Oakland Youth Development Center in Oakland, Calif. (PHOTO CREDIT: Jessica Guynn, USA TODAY)

On a sunny morning, kids bounce in their chairs and rock their heads rhythmically to infectious beats their classmates are mixing on GarageBand software.

“Give her a thumbs up for her beat,” exhorts instructor Jeffrei Pettaway and an enthusiastic sea of hands juts into the air.

For many in this classroom, this is the first time they have touched an iPad. This six-week, hands-on summer class exposes kids ages 7 to 12 to technology — and the 21st century skills that come with it.

With a few swipes, the tablets on the tables in front of them — a gift from technology giant Apple — open up worlds miles away from this hardened stretch of East Oakland, Calif. The kids have ventured on virtual scavenger hunts in Africa and researched what life is like in India, each project making them more familiar and at ease with the software that is transporting them.

“This is bringing a whole new world inside their backyard in a way that’s safe for them to explore,” Regina Jackson says as she watches the students absorb the morning lessons.

Jackson is president of the East Oakland Youth Development Center. Equal parts sanctuary and springboard, it was founded nearly four decades ago by former Clorox CEO Robert Shetterly to lift the fortunes of a neighborhood overburdened by sky-high rates of poverty, crime and violence.

Of the students in this class, about 90% qualify for free lunch and live within blocks of the center. They come here for rare access to opportunity in the form of free after-school tutoring, college preparation courses, music and arts lessons, health and wellness education programs and the hardwood that such NBA greats as Gary Payton and Jason Kidd once played on.

The community center’s goal: to give children the same shot at success they would have in wealthier parts of the city. Increasingly, that means the digital literacy they will need to successfully navigate the world.

Low-income youth in East Oakland are among “the most technologically disconnected demographic groups in the United States,” Jackson says. Four out of 10 students in Oakland public schools do not have access to a computer at home, and Jackson estimates 70% of the students at her community center do not have a computer at home with parents relying instead on smartphones.

Jackson installed computer labs to connect more kids to technology and offer year-round computer classes. And, this summer, she teamed with Apple, which is reaching across the digital divide into Oakland, starting with this donation of 40 iPads to expose 180 kids to the technology that will shape their lives and careers. The East Oakland Youth Development Center eventually wants to teach coding classes to help youth develop the skills they would need to work at a company such as Apple.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Jessica Guynn