Summer 2003

LEARN in Connecticut
by Nancy Cleary and Paula Cymbala

In May 2000, LEARN, a regional educational service center in Connecticut, received word that it had been awarded a three-year grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education to create four Community Technology Centers (CTCs). The primary goal of the Regional Access for Technology (RAFT) program is to provide computer literacy training to adults, out-of-school technology opportunities for school-age children, early literacy for preschoolers, and professional development for teachers.

Based on a community needs assessment, the CTCs were created with strong community partners and were located in four towns with diverse populations and needs regarding computer literacy. The unique aspect of these centers is their school-based/non-school-based physical locations, which range from a 100-year-old elementary school building to a public library to a child care center. Balancing youth and adult programs and open to everyone, the Regional Access for Technology program offers a range of services from preschool to senior citizens.

A strong component of the Regional Access for Technology's success has been its strong partnerships. For example, a successful partnership with the Southern Illinois University, which has a branch at the military base located in Groton, CT, was formed early in the start-up phase of creating the CTCs. The university program offers a bachelor's degree program in Workforce Education. CTC managers work with interns to capitalize on their strengths and skills for job responsibilities such as teaching introductory computer classes, helping during walk-in open access times, or acting as teaching assistants. In the past two years, internships have encompassed a total of 1,950 volunteer hours for the program.

Jeffrey Walsh, a SIU intern, reported at the end of his term: "RAFT provided the best opportunity to enhance my skills as a trainer. RAFT offers services to the elderly, whose number one reason for taking computer classes is to not be left behind. I was able to spend time with individuals and watch their excitement as what they first thought was impossible became possible."

In September 2001, LEARN forged a new partnership with the Verizon Foundation. The Verizon Foundation advocates building relationships that focus on improving the lives of people through the integration of innovative technology. The Regional Access for Technology's mission integrates this goal and in turn provides the community with technology training. As an ePartner, RAFT utilizes the funding through the Verizon Foundation for eTraining by encouraging non-profit agencies to send their employees to computer training. In addition, the primary partnerships with the Groton Public Library, Stonington and Norwich Public Schools, the Boys & Girls Club, and the Clinton Child Care Service have provided significant in-kind and financial support. Without their commitment our program would not be in existence today.

Nancy Cleary Site Manager RAFT, LEARN. Paula Cymbala is Project Coordinator for RAFT, LEARN.

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