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Bridging the Divide

Group conquers digital divide

By Alan riquelmy / Selma Times – Journal

The digital divide is being bridged in Selma through free computer classes.

Amos E. Moore, program director for the Selma digital opportunity Americorps program, slowly walked around a computer lab located in the Valley Creek Apartments Community Building. Seven students sat at their computers as Darlene Wallace, Americorps member and teacher, explained why these classes were so important.

Wallace added that many jobs now have computer competency tests. If you don’t know about computers, she said, you don’t get the job.

Willie M. Walker, a student of the class, hopes to get a computer and an in-home job after she completes the course.

Walker said that she was currently practicing typing. She had taken a typing course in high school, but that had been a long time ago, she added.

Another student, Rose Jones, said that she plans on attending Wallace Community College Selma after the class.

Before she had started the class Jones said her computer proficiency was low. However, she was currently up to 15 words per minute.

Wallace said that after the students had completed their typing practice the rest of the time would be spent changing the screen saver and background on the screen.

Wallace said that at the end of the six-week course students would have mastered basic typing skills, be able to use Microsoft Word and Excel, Powerpoint and set up and receive e-mail.

Moore said that there were a number of sites in Selma with Americorps members teaching digital divide classes. Each housing site, he said, already has computer labs that weren’t being used.

Also, Moore said, there was no formal instruction for the computers until Americorps stepped in.

Americorps also helps out at computer labs in schools.

Levi Marshall, Success Specialist at Selma High School, said that his role is to help children pass the Alabama high school graduation exam.

Marshall said that Americorps comes in and helps students with software designed to teach them subjects that will be on the graduation exam: reading, writing and arithmetic.

Marshall added that Americorps members are better with computers and they can help students work with the software in addition to tutoring them in a given subject.

The digital divide program in Selma has its roots in a 1997 study by the U.S. Department of Commerce. City Council members Nancy Sewell and Jean Martin discovered a wide gap in those who had Internet access and those who didn’t in the report.

After additional statistics were gathered, Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. and the City Council applied for a grant in order to bridge the digital divide. The application was successful and a $1.3 million Americorps grant was given to the city.

Moore said that the program is now in its third year of a three year grant cycle. He plans on applying for more funding in March 2003, and said that he has every confidence that the grant will be awarded again.