By Wade Coggeshall
Hendricks County Flyer (Avon, Ind.)
For a generation that’s so computer-savvy, it sure makes itself vulnerable on the World Wide Web.
That’s one of the major reasons why Net Literacy was born. The Indianapolis-based non-profit was founded in 2003 by a junior high student voluntarily teaching computer and Internet skills to area seniors and elementary school students.
Since its start, more than 700 students have volunteered for the organization, reconditioned thousands of computers for public schools, and increased computer access for more than 70,000 people in four states. The likes of Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, and Colin Powell have publicly acknowledged its impact.
“There’s no question we’re on the leading edge of youth engagement in crossing the digital divide,” said Don Kent, chair and youth mentor for Net Literacy.
The organization has four core programs. Computer Connects collects and refurbishes computers that are distributed to public facilities. Senior Connects teaches older residents computer and Internet skills. Community Connects establishes computer labs in public centers like Boys and Girls Clubs.
The latest is Safe Connects, meant to teach children safe Internet use.
“Our students feel that increasing Internet safety awareness is important,” Kent said.
Net Literacy cites the alarming statistic that almost one in five youths have been inappropriately contacted by adults in Internet chatrooms.
“Sometimes I think it’s the perception of anonymity on the Internet, looking at text as opposed to having a conversation with a person,” Kent said. “They have a false sense of security.”
It’s not just child predators that teens need to beware. Inappropriate profiles on social websites like MySpace and Facebook, even done in jest, can come back to haunt their creators, particularly when it comes to future employment. Employers and headhunters are increasingly using sophisticated search technology when conducting background checks on potential employees.
“This is something students just aren’t aware of, partly because parents aren’t aware of this,” Kent said.
To help combat these concerns, student volunteers have crafted age-appropriate lesson plans to be used in schools and are creating public service announcements that are airing on Bright House Networks cable for the next 10 months. The student volunteers wrote the scripts and are serving as the on-camera talent. Bright House is acting as producer, committing $100,000 over the years to Net Literacy’s initiatives.
Al Aldridge, Bright House’s public relations director, said, “Media literacy has always been a strong component of our outreach to communities. Net literacy fell right into the same bucket.”
Bright House has collaborated with Indianapolis Public Schools in the past to create similar measures. Safe Connects, Aldridge says, is a continuation of the company’s mission to educate citizens on how best to use its products.