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Pilot program helping Bibb students gain Internet access at home
[December 11, 2012]

Pilot program helping Bibb students gain Internet access at home

Dec 11, 2012 (The Macon Telegraph - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Darriale Bradley couldn't wait to connect to the Internet at her west Macon home.

She didn't waste much time before signing up for the Connect2Compete program that hooked her up to the Web early this month.

"The fireworks cracked," she said twice as she described the first time she signed on at home.

No other words could describe how happy she was to see "Google" appear on the screen, she told a television reporter documenting the occasion early this month.

From that search engine and other sites she is forging her quest for higher education.

The college search site was the first place she surfed on her new hookup.

"I like Cappex because it also shows me the good colleges, not just those that are popular," Bradley said.

The Southwest High School honor student used to have to sit in the WiFi zone of a McDonald's parking lot to do her school work or search for college opportunities.

Now the world comes to her door.

But the window for others to sign up for the connection is closing.

The pilot program for qualifying families in 21 Bibb County schools expires Saturday, but if there is enough interest it might be extended.

Only families with at least one child in the free lunch program qualify.

Students must attend one of the following schools: Barden, Bernd, Brookdale, Bruce, Burdell-Hunt, Burghard, Hartley, Ingram-Pye, Jones, King-Danforth, Morgan, Rice, Riley, Union or Williams elementaries; Appling, Ballard-Hudson, Bloomfield or Weaver middle schools; or Northeast or Southwest high schools.

Cox Communications, Microsoft and other technology companies are working with nonprofit organizations such as the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to offer Internet for $9.95 per month, before tax.

Families might also qualify for a refurbished desktop or laptop computer for $150.

Microsoft software is pre-installed and shipped for free.

Bradley's mother opted to pay extra for wireless capability in their home, which is not part of the Connect2Compete package.

"Oh, wow, I've been loving Connect2Compete," Debra Bradley said Tuesday afternoon. "I am doing everything I can to advocate for it." Darriale and Debra Bradley tried to encourage other families to jump on the low-cost broadband wagon at the Southwest PTO meeting Tuesday night.

With Darriale the president of the Future Business Leaders of America at the school, the Bradleys are encouraging other club members to take advantage of the opportunity.

"There's no way anyone under the poverty level shouldn't have it for $10 a month," Debra Bradley said.

Beverly Blake, the Knight Foundation's program director for Macon, said Knight's goal is for universal broadband access and training for everyone.

"So that our residents will be more than digitally literate, we will be digitally fluent -- a requirement to fully participate in learning, employment and connecting with family and friends in the 21st Century," Blake said in a Connect2Compete news release.

Cox Middle Georgia's Lynn Murphey said a local Internet accessibility project was already in the planning stages with the Knight Foundation when she learned Macon had been accepted for an extended Connect2Compete pilot. Cox helped launch the first pilot program in California earlier this year.

Input from Bibb County will help fine-tune the process before a national Connect2Compete launch in March.

"The timing was perfect," Murphey said in a news release. "This has been the most rewarding project in my 16-plus years with Cox Communications." As of last week, 439 people registered and nearly 200 purchased Cox Internet or computers.

Bibb County's participation is outpacing New Orleans, Chicago and Miami, the news release stated.

Community partners such as the Bibb County school board, Promise Neighborhood, Macon Housing Authority and Central Georgia Technical College have been promoting the program and encouraging families to register.

The national Connect2Compete leadership is so impressed with what's happening in Macon that they selected the Macon Housing Authority to host the first field test of a computer basics training course that concludes Wednesday.

Bibb schools Superintendent Romain Dallemand said the initiative is a tremendous opportunity for students to learn, do research, search for scholarships and engage in the world from the comforts of home.

"The reality is this is how today's students learn, which is why we included technology as a main focus area in our Strategic Plan for improving student achievement," Dallemand said in a news release.

Of course, Darriale enjoys playing Internet games in her spare time, too.

Her mother doesn't mind because the 11th-grader who plays flute and piccolo in the band also gets straight A's.

She sees the Internet connection as a stepping stone.

"It's another opportunity for help and to excel," Darriale said.

Her mother doesn't miss camping out in the McDonald's parking lot, though.

"I still love their fries, but I don't miss McDonald's," Bradley said.

Families may apply Saturday from 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. at the Welcome Center next to Hutchings Career Center at 2003 Riverside Drive.

Registration will also be held at the Buck Melton Center at 150 Sessions Drive between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

___ (c)2012 The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga.) Visit The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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