Plugging kids into computer help

Donation to after-school club gives Howard students a homework boost


Teiana Underwood, a 14-year-old freshman at Centennial High School, says that she has to churn out up to five essays a week.

"They must be typed," said Underwood, who does not have a computer at home and previously had to type her assignments on one of two computers shared by dozens of students at an after-school program. "In high school, I have to print out all of my essays."

Underwood's plight got a little easier this month when she and the 55 other students who attend the Homework Club in the Roger Carter Recreation Center and nearby Hilltop Community Center in Ellicott City got access to eight new computers and Internet service, courtesy of corporate and service organization donors.

The additions are credited in large part to the efforts of County Council member Christopher J. Merdon, who noticed when he spoke to the students a few months ago that they were without Internet access and in need of computers.

"This is just an unleveled playing field," said Merdon, who estimated that an overwhelming majority of the residents in Howard County have Internet access and computers at home.

The Ellicott City councilman met with the Kiwanis Club and Comcast a few weeks later and started the process that led to the donations.

Comcast provided four computers and high-speed Internet access for the Homework Club, along with digital cable and digital video recorders. The equipment cost an estimated $6,500. Comcast also will pick up the service costs of $4,000. The Kiwanis Club donated four computers, worth $4,000 in all.

"It is a real presumption that kids have this at home, which is not always true," said Brian Lynch, area vice president and general manager of Comcast Baltimore Metro Counties. Lynch said students regularly use the Internet for homework assignments. "That kind of resource allows kids to leverage their best effort on whatever project they are working on," he said.

The county Housing Department provides funding for the Homework Club. The Department of Recreation and Parks runs the program, which is open between 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Twenty-four middle and high school students attend the Homework Club at the Carter center, and 32 elementary school pupils attend the program at Hilltop.

"It provides a safe place for kids to do homework, get a snack and do an activity," said Arthur Downing, facility manager at the Carter center, who added that statistics indicate that "most kids get into trouble during the hours after school, before their parents come home."

Jequita Hill, director of the Homework Club and affectionately called "Miss J" by the students, said the computers will have a huge impact.

"This has pushed us way ahead," Hill said. "When it comes to basic tutoring, research and homework help, it will significantly boost their grades. ... I think we broke some ground in this."

Before the donation, Hill would print out research for the students from home.

"If a child has limited resources, they have limited results," Hill said. "When you have six people and all six have papers and research, there is only so much that they can do."

Teiana Underwood, president of the Homework Club, welcomes the additions.

"I was so excited that I wouldn't have to wait and others wouldn't have to wait," Underwood said with a smile. "I'm a slow typer."

Courtney Watson, chairman of the county Board of Education, recently got a firsthand look at the students using the computers and wants to see similar projects in the future.

"Programs like this level the playing field so that all children have access," Watson said. "This was a creative solution. ... It's a role model for what we can do in the future so we can be able to duplicate it."

Destany Griffin, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Dunloggin Middle School, has spent some of her computer time searching for information about becoming a hairstylist.

Griffin, who has a computer at home but does not have access to the Internet, said having access allows her to explore her aspirations and work on school assignments.

"It seems as though kids don't have chances," Griffin said. "This gives us a better chance."

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