Bidwell Training Center is bridging the digital divide, one Chromebook at a time
October, 7 2020 2:45 pm
Today, owning a computer and having access to the internet is a necessity. The COVID-19
pandemic has forced us indoors, causing us to become dependent on technology to
communicate, to work and to receive an education.
Our adult career training affiliate Bidwell Training Center (BTC) shut their doors on Friday,
March 13 for the health and safety of their students and faculty. What was expected to be a
two-week closure ended up lasting 12 weeks.
The pandemic highlighted inequity among BTC’s student populations. With 70% of their
students at or below the low-income threshold, as defined by the Pennsylvania Department of
Community and Economic Development, many students did not have access to or could not
afford technology in order to receive instruction or to communicate with their instructors.
“The digital divide diminishes the quality of life, economic opportunity and social interaction
for our students,” says Dr. Kimberly Rassau, Executive Director of Bidwell Training Center,
“It was imperative that we quickly developed a solution to give our students all of the tools
they needed to succeed.”
Bridging the Digital Divide
BTC has existed for over 50 years and its success is in hands-on, in-person career training. The school was founded on the principle that environment shapes behavior and it acts as a sanctuary for many of their students. When the ability to enter the facility was taken away, BTC faculty and staff knew they had to find a way to stay in contact with students and assist not only with their academic needs but their personal and mental health needs as well.
“We’ll always be a brick and mortar school but we needed to find the appropriate integration of technology that would complement and supplement their learning,” says Dr. Rassau.
BTC applied to the Richard King Mellon Foundation’s COVID-19 Emergency Operating Support Fund in order to develop and implement an alternative content delivery model for their students.
“Our President and C.E.O. Kevin Jenkins brought the grant to my attention and I thought it was absolutely amazing. It was exactly what we needed,” says Dr. Rassau.
BTC received a $100,000 grant from Richard King Mellon Foundation and purchased 235 Google Chromebooks for both their faculty and students to not only use temporarily, but to keep, even after the students graduate.
''Economic recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 will require ready access to technology for remote job training - particularly for people and communities that too often have been forced to live on the wrong side of the digital divide," said Sam Reiman, Director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation, "Bidwell Training Center is working to bridge that divide, and the Foundation was eager to support their efforts as part of our comprehensive COVID-19 economic recovery strategy.''
There are also several laptops available to use in the library, in case a student leaves their laptop at home.
Ensuring the Viability of Virtual Learning
Students and faculty both received computer training starting in late September where they learned how to use the laptops and its included apps, such as an app that identifies free Wi-Fi hotspots around them for access to the Internet when they are not on campus. The Zoom app is also included on the laptops.
“Zoom has become industry standard for job interviews and meetings and we wanted our students to have this app so when they graduate, they have the ability to participate in virtual interviews for employers,” says Dr. Rassau.
BTC has also partnered with Google and successfully gained access to their G Suite for Education program, which allows their students and staff to access tutorials, save work to the Google Cloud and also receive a Google certification.
“There’s so much the students can do and it helps with retention. For example, they can re-watch their lectures again and again to help them master a skill they may have missed while in the physical classroom,” says Dr. Rassau.
BTC’s distribution of Chromebooks to their students ensures an inclusive, sustainable and quality education. BTC continues to evolve and are always searching for ways in which they can eliminate as many barriers to their students’ success as possible.
Manchester Bidwell Corporation Founder & Executive Chairman Bill Strickland and Bidwell Training Center Executive Director Dr. Kimberly Rassau welcome the shipment of over 200 Google Chromebooks