Digital divide at schools among Mikulski's priorities

This Just In...

November 10, 1999|By Dan Rodricks

BARBARA Mikulski's family maintains the rights to the original raisin bread recipe from its old Polish-American bakery, now Dorothea's, on Eastern Avenue. The other day, the senator's eyebrows popped an inch as she wondered aloud about getting Dorothea's to market the bread online.

Yeah, that's the ticket. Mikulski's Old World Raisin Bread on the World Wide Web. Why not? Everyone else seems to be using the Internet for buying and selling these days. Why not a U.S. senator with strong ethnic roots?

I can see it now:

Anything is possible in the age of the Internet, which just happens to be the subject of conversation during breakfast with Mikulski at Rallo's in South Baltimore. Wiring the nation -- and making an effort to get Americans across the "digital divide" and into the world of computers -- is Mikulski's passion these days. And not because she's looking to score some profits off an old family bread recipe.

She wants to avoid, for one thing, the creation of another social chasm, in which only well-off and well-educated Americans have access to the Internet and the vaunted "new economy."

"This is my legacy issue," says Mikulski, who has served in Congress since 1977, the Senate since 1987. "There is a digital divide; it's already there. And you're either going to be on one side of it or the other. I want to make sure our state is on the right side. (ELLIPSES) ... Computers and the Internet are profoundly shaping the way we live."

Mikulski considers herself one of the "tech senators," plugged into the information-technology community and bullish about finding ways to help more Americans take advantage of opportunities in cyberspace.

She's been hearing, from too many entrepreneurs, about a shortage of qualified workers. So she's wondering what government can do to prepare young Americans for the digital economy. In Baltimore, she notes, there are only 1.5 modern computers for every 35 public school students, and only 40 of 181 city schools are wired and linked to the Internet.

She likens government involvement in wiring schools -- and possibly creating whole e-villages in various communities in Baltimore and throughout Maryland -- to the creation of public libraries. That, it turns out, was a wise thing for government to do, vital to the education of Americans, vital to democracy. Government should play the same role in the digital era.

But how should all that work? Mikulski and her staff have been assembling information for the past six months, doing a kind of inventory of state and federal resources. Efforts are scattered and not very well focused, Mikulski says. She'll be the host of a summit on crossing the digital divide in Annapolis on Jan. 24. Watch this space.

How to help schools

For now, if you'd like to help a city school get computers, you can save up cash register tapes from supermarket shopping and send them to the Renaissance Institute at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. For the past five years, the energetic senior citizens enrolled in the institute have collected tapes from Giant, SuperFresh and Metro and redeemed them for computers for a Baltimore public school with the greatest need and best student attendance record. Last year's beneficiary was Dallas F. Nicholas Elementary School, on 21st Street. If you want to contribute, send your receipts to: Save the Tapes, Renaissance Institute, College of Notre Dame of Maryland, 4701 N. Charles St., Baltimore 21210-2476.

Squeeze play

Did you see where the Ravens charged Poly and City 10 grand to use TSWTRP (The Stadium Where The Ravens Play) for their 111th annual football clash Saturday? They squeezed $10,000 from two public high schools. Does this bother you as much as it does me? Considering the state of the city schools and the amount of money we paid for that stadium -- and all the profit-making deals the Ravens have enjoyed (personal seat licenses, selling the stadium name) -- it's appalling. And astonishing that the Maryland Stadium Authority tolerates it. Things must be pretty bad if the Modells have to shake down a couple of high schools for $10,000.

Good kids keep doing good

Remember Joey Russell? He's the Havre de Grace kid who last year auctioned off an authentic Titanic postcard, signed by a survivor, to raise funds for a friend's mother. The woman, Mary Shelley, had leukemia and needed $80,000 for medical bills related to a potentially life-saving bone marrow transplant. The auction of Joey's prized postcard raised $60,000.

For his noble deed, then 13-year-old Joey got national attention, including an appearance on Rosie O'Donnell's television show.

Mary Shelley is in good health one year after the marrow transplant.

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