Often students from low-income families do not have enough access to the latest technology. The FIU Weekend Academy was designed to provide students from North Miami high schools with the tools to support their creativity in a high-tech environment. It is an attempt to give students a head start in developing computer skills as well as making connections with career and educational opportunities.
Florida International University (FIU) Libraries teamed up with the Miami-Dade County Public School System (M-DCPS) to offer this unique program designed to help reduce the digital divide. Librarians at FIU collaborate with teachers from M-DCPS to sponsor free computer and Internet mini-courses to North Miami high school students. The program, which began September 2001, takes place at the Biscayne Bay Campus of Florida International University, in North Miami, Florida. The primary mission of the program is to teach software and computer technology to students who would not otherwise have access. Targeting schools in the North Miami-Dade school district allows us to reach out primarily to Haitian-American and African American students. Many of the students attending the FIU Weekend Academy are non-native English speakers from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
The first year of the FIU Weekend Academy was a pilot program. Before we committed ourselves to continue with the courses, we needed to determine our target populations, the cost of the program, the interest in the program, how to fund the program and how to evaluate the program.
Based on our pilot year, we decided the target group should be sophomore and junior students from North Miami-Dade County. Because of the popularity of the classes and the positive feedback from students and parents, we have decided to continue offering the classes free of charge. However, in order for us to continue offering the classes, we needed to seek outside funding.
As part of the pilot program we implemented a quantitative and qualitative assessment of the FIU Weekend Academy. One of the assessment tools we devised includes providing open lab sessions where FIU Weekend Academy students can drop in and practice using the software. Once students feel their skills are adequate they can take an assessment exam. We have also implemented a qualitative assessment allowing students to give us feedback on the courses and teachers. Finally, once funding sources have been identified, we hope to install software in the target high schools to measure continued use of the software.
Additionally, we would like to conduct long-term studies, which will help determine whether the graduates of the FIU Weekend Academy choose FIU for college and/or enter a career in computer technology or computer applications.
The pilot program provided free courses (six in all) twice a year to high school students. The courses offered were Mastering the Web, Microsoft Office, Digital Imaging, Macromedia Dreamweaver, Computer Animation with Macromedia Flash and Intermediate Flash. In Mastering the Web, students learn effective Internet search strategies through the use of a variety of search engines and directories. Emphasis is placed on currency, completeness, bias and authority in Internet sources. In Microsoft Office students learn the basics and advanced points of Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Students learn how to capture web images, take digital photos, scan documents and use Photoshop Elements in Digital Imaging. In Macromedia Dreamweaver students learn to use and apply Dreamweaver in the creation of web pages. Computer Animation with Macromedia Flash gives students an overview of Flash and basic animation. In Intermediate Macromedia Flash students learn advanced applications of Flash in web page creation and development.
In our pilot program, parents were invited to observe and, if there was open space, encouraged to participate. Each class was eight hours taught in two separate four-hour sessions on weekends. Each course culminated with a final project. Students were encouraged to challenge themselves and create projects that incorporated information specific to their communities or interests outside the walls of high school. The final projects created by the student were included in their high school portfolios.
As stated earlier, the classes were co-taught with instructors from the FIU Libraries and M-DCPS. The collaboration and enthusiasm between the two units has been a resounding success. Outreach efforts included teachers from the high schools announcing the program in homeroom. Students registered with the FIU Libraries by mail or fax. The classes were standing room only with waiting lists of 10 or more students.
The FIU Weekend Academy came about as a means to fulfill the library mission. Part of the FIU Libraries’ mission includes “assuming a special responsibility to working with institutions to serve the people of South Florida.”
Being in the perfect position to help bridge the Digital Divide, the FIU Biscayne Bay Campus Library reached out to the community it surrounds, which happens to be primarily Haitian-American and African American, and provided access to software and technology.
We want to continue offering the courses free of charge, so currently our efforts focus on external funding. Because FIU Libraries already own the software, the biggest expense faced is staffing. We are researching grants from the community as well as from software companies.
As we seek external funding to continue the program, we hope to involve businesses in North Miami Dade who may offer opportunities for further training and real-life implementation of skills learned.
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