Nashville Station and Local Promise Neighborhood
Work Together to Help Close Digital Divide
In Nashville, public television has partnered with a local Promise Neighborhood, a project dedicated to revamping the community through education, access to technology, financial literacy and basic healthcare. Nashville Public Television (NPT) is one of three local PBS stations that are laying the groundwork for an ongoing partnership with the nation’s promise neighborhoods, which are funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
The Nashville Promise Neighborhood serves an area of the city that clearly faces the greatest need. It is separated by the Cumberland River from the bulk of downtown Nashville and includes the oldest and largest public housing development in the city. The area houses close to 10,000 people, 31 percent of which are children under the age of 18. Only 50 percent of the families have access to the Internet or a computer. In an effort to increase that number, the Martha O’Bryan Center—a key partner in the Promise Neighborhood—installed television portals with broadband access in 150 homes. The portal, along with a wireless keyboard, turned the family television into a computer.
“What they were doing fed into what we were doing when it came to trying to bridge the digital divide,” said JoAnn Scalf, the director of education at NPT.
NPT was able to provide the digital content for the families, from online games on PBS Kids and PBS Kids Lab to Ready To Learn apps downloaded with gift codes made available through the Mobile Learning Program. The station also provided parent workshops, back-to-school events and a kindergarten kick-off.
During one of NPT’s workshops, parents learned computer and Internet basics while their children were occupied playing with educational apps on the iPad. The skills learned by the parents will help them enormously in their everyday lives, including looking for jobs (99% of all U.S. jobs only accept online applications)
“This unique portal of information that was designed by and with our community would not have been successful if we had no opportunity to tell our families and show our parents and our students what’s available to them,” said Robin Veenstra-VanderWeele, Promise Neighborhood director at Martha O’Bryan Center.
The Martha O’Bryan Center, in Cayce Place of East Nashville, each year works with 6,000 children and adults living in poverty to supplement education, secure meaningful employment and create an outlet for fellowship. NPT, with Ready To Learn funding, bought iPads for the Center’s three pre-K classrooms (serving around 100 students) and the on-site library.
“Students and parents are fantastically excited about the content,” said Veenstra-VanderWeele.
NPT also worked with Metro Nashville Public Schools to bring three or four iPads into every one of the district’s 32 pre-K classrooms. Gift codes for free Ready To Learn apps, like Martha Speaks: Story Builder and All Aboard the Dinosaur Train: Camera Catch, were also distributed to these classrooms.
“They were very excited and the children just took to it very well. I think there were a lot of benefits there,” said Scalf. “The teachers and the care providers, before and after school, integrated the content into their programs and they felt like it had an impact on the achievement of the students.”
In its partnership, NPT was able to expand the mission of the Promise Neighborhood—which had been planned around kindergarten through eighth-grade education—to include early childhood education with the PBS Kids and Ready To Learn resources.
“It allowed us to dramatically expand and re-envision our project to include cohorts of families whose primary reason for joining the project was early education,” said Veenstra-VanderWeele.
It’s an impact that has been witnessed by NPT, the staff at Martha O’Bryan Center, the teachers in Metro Nashville Public Schools and the parents of these children—Pre-K through eighth grade.
A mother from Somalia, who has six children—two in high school, two in middle school, one in grade school and one in Pre-K—left a voicemail for Veenstra-VanderWeele that summed up the impact, and the success, of a start to a close of the digital divide in this East Nashville community.
“Miss Robin, I need you to know that in one weekend that we’ve had the opportunity to use this equipment (the television portal and PBS content), my children and I have learned more English and more about how to read than we have in the entire six years that we’ve lived in the United States,” said the mother.