Pilot program aims at addressing technology inequality in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood

CLEVELAND — Measured by more than just distance, the Hough neighborhood is about as far away as you can get from Silicon Valley.

However, as part of a new program, students had a firsthand look at state-of-the-art technology through after-school sessions in an effort to help bridge that gap and explore possible career fields for the future.

Cleveland State University associate professor Kelle DeBoth Foust makes up part of the team behind the program.

“It’s a very under-resourced neighborhood,” Dr. Kelle DeBoth Foust said. “There are tons of efforts to bring everybody up to par, up to the baseline where everybody else is, but there aren’t a lot of things that capture that idea of being creative and innovative and thinking well beyond that.”

With the help of DigitalC, a nonprofit that provides $18-a-month high-speed internet and basic computer skills training to Cleveland residents, they’re steering a new pilot called TechBox.

The program exposes more than a dozen Hough students to everything from drones to virtual reality, uncovering code and artificial intelligence.

“Access is everything,” Ladonna Norris at DigitalC explained. “If you don’t know something exists, you haven’t been exposed to it, you can’t envision it for yourself.”

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At one session, students at the JumpStart/Verizon Maker Space inside the Fulton branch of the Cleveland Public Library, students explored 3d printing, stop motion animation, making podcasts and more.

It’s a neighborhood where more than half of its kids live below the poverty rate, according to a community profile done by The Center for Community Solutions.

That same report shows how the Hough neighborhood trails in education, with only 13.3% of residents having a bachelor’s degree compared to 17.5% of Cleveland residents.

Additionally, only 58.5% of Hough households have access to the internet.

“What are those things we can do to get them to dream big, DeBoth Foust said.

While this pilot program wrapped up its last class, the goal is for students 14 years old and older to become paid experts in technology, helping teach senior citizens how to navigate what they don’t know when it comes to technology.

On top of that, organizers hope to make this an annual program.

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