Designing a Computer-Training Program for Kids

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Jim Zappen
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The Troy Community Networking Project (, April 26, 2002) has initiated the development of a youth-services information system for Troy and Rensselaer County, New York. This system, called Connected Kids (, April 26, 2002), will present information about youth services and multimedia content to parents, teachers, and young people throughout the City, County, and Capital Region. System developers Jim Zappen and Sibel Adali from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Teri Harrison from SUNY-Albany recognize the need to develop a social and physical infrastructure to ensure access to the information system for the purpose of retrieving information and contributing content to the database.


Troy presents a striking image of the digital divide--a technological university perched on a hilltop overlooking an aging Northeastern industrial city with numerous vacant buildings in the downtown area, generally low levels of income and education, and substantial minority populations. Many kids at the Troy Housing Authority (THA) and other local after-school programs have little or no access to computers outside the schools. But most RPI students have exceptional computing skills, and many are committed to sharing these skills with others and especially with kids.


To address this disparity, system developers are creating a computer-training program to provide computers and training in basic computer literacy, word processing, and image manipulation for kids in local school and after-school programs. To date, with assistance from RPI graduate and undergraduate students, they have:

Obtained and recycled computers from RPI and equipped them with Linux software for use in the after-school program for kids at the THA's Martin Luther King (MLK) Apartments,

With support from 3Com and Time Warner Cable, set up networking equipment and established cable connections at the Troy and Lansingburgh Boys and Girls Clubs and set up networking equipment at three THA sites, including the MLK community room,

Rebuilt Windows computers for the Troy Family YMCA.

Currently, the developers and their students are also:

Teaching kids in the MLK's after-school program to use the computers and Linux software and to produce stories and art work for the Connected Kids database,

Offering instruction in Web design for high school seniors with an interest in science and technology in the Questar III program on the RPI campus and working with these students to create Web-based information about issues and opportunities in science and technology as resources for middle and high school students to be included in the Connected Kids database,

Managing members of RPI's Information Technology Honor Society who are teaching Web-design skills (Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Flash) to kids in the after-school program at a neighborhood organization called the Bridge Coalition,

Developing an archive of art work and photographs of young people's activities to publicize both the students' work and the recreational, educational, and cultural activities available to them in Troy and Rensselaer County,

Developing a Web-based art gallery for the Lansingburgh public schools for the schools' web site and for the Connected Kids database.


These efforts have begun to address but have by no means solved the problem of creating widespread access to computer technology, especially among underprivileged and underserved populations in Troy and Rensselaer County. Nonetheless, they demonstrate the potential to bridge the digital divide by encouraging students with exceptional computing skills to share them with others and in the process to enrich their own educational experience.

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