Most people have heard of the achievement gap. Lots of folks talk about it and how we need higher standards and better tests. The truth is, however, that we don’t have an achievement gap; what we really have is an opportunity gap. When I started teaching social studies at Digital Harbor High School, a technology-focused school in Baltimore, Maryland, I saw how my students, many from low-income families, lacked opportunities. 

To help solve this problem, I founded an after-school club teaching basic web development to students, with the goal of connecting inner-city youth to paying client organizations that needed simple, brochure-style websites. My students worked very hard, going above and beyond the required curriculum. They learned not only about technology and web development, but about business, team-work, and client relationships. It gave them first-hand experiences while providing an invaluable proof point: they could achieve just as much, if not more, when given the right opportunities. 

The more I was involved with my after-school club, the more I was driven to act. I was excited by the learning and potential I saw as they worked on real-world problems. So when the city announced it would be shutting down the South Baltimore Rec Center, that happened to be just a few blocks from Digital Harbor High School, I started thinking of all of the things I could do with such a space, and in less than a year, we launched the Digital Harbor Foundation (DHF) Tech Center, an informal learning space in which to teach youth the most up-to-date technology. We now work with more than 400 students outside of school, fostering innovation through 3-D design and printing, app creation, game and web development, engineering, and more. 

Today, the DHF team participated in a special event with Comcast at the Digital Harbor Foundation alongside Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and other officials and partners. Digital Harbor High School and Liberty Elementary students explored technology projects created by DHF youth and heard from industry and community leaders. Also at the event, Comcast made significant commitments to DHF programs through its broadband adoption initiative, Internet Essentials. The company awarded 55 computers and six months of complimentary Internet Essentials services to students attending the event from Digital Harbor High School and Liberty Elementary School. This is in addition to the six month promotion they are already offering through September 30th. Since 2011, Internet Essentials has connected more than 1.4 million low-income Americans to the Internet at home, including 29,700 Marylanders. 

At DHF, we believe technology is the key for youth to succeed in today’s world. Not having Internet access at home is like giving students pens and books at school, but taking them away when the final bell rings. To overcome the digital divide, youth need access to both technology and tech education. That’s why I’m grateful to Comcast for their announcement today, and their commitment to support DHF’s mission of fostering innovation, tech advancement, and entrepreneurship in youth. This work is incredibly important to the economic vitality of Baltimore City, the state of Maryland, and the United States. The digital skills gained through our maker activities and tech workforce readiness, combined with Internet access in the home, will prepare youth for success in their education now and in their future careers. We are excited to partner with Comcast’s Internet Essentials, and to provide real opportunities to more families in Baltimore. 

Together, Internet Essentials and DHF are working to level the playing field for low-income children. Internet Essentials connects families to the Internet at home, while DHF connects youth to a pathway into a future tech career. The only question that remains now is how will you do your part to end the opportunity gap facing far too many of the youth of our country.

Photo: Executive Director of Digital Harbor Foundation Andrew Coy, Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley hear about student maker projects at Internet Essentials year-four kick-off event in Baltimore.