Utah education: Getting creative with technology

Watch a video about the Unity Computer Clubhouse.

Story and multimedia by FLOR OLIVO

On most afternoons you can find groups of children and young adults in computer labs at libraries, schools or internet cafes. Other children use computers and technology every day at home. But at the Unity Computer Clubhouse, technology for children comes with a twist.

The Unity Computer Clubhouse is located at the Sorenson Multicultural and Unity Fitness Center in Salt Lake City. Colorful flags and paint adorn the venue. Housed in the center of the Glendale community it’s name represents the diversity that surrounds it. The center strives to provide after school programming for children and youth.

The basis of the technology program there, is to spark the love for creating, says program director, Janette Nelson. “Most students are consumers, but if they can learn to create they can make money,” she said.

They may be unto something: According to Jay Vesgo’s report for the Computing Research Association jobs in the information technology fields are expected to increase by about 30 percent between 2004 and 2014, for an addition of more than 1 million jobs nationally. In present times, over half (56 percent) of employed Americans over age 18 use a computer at work in the state of Utah, according to the US Department of Commerce report on Computer and Internet Use in the US.

President Obama at a town hall meeting on education in late March 2011 said, “Actually, the truth is ‘technology’ can make a difference. If the schools know how to use the technology well, especially now with the Internet, it means that students can access information from anywhere in the world. And that’s a powerful tool… what we want to do is encourage schools to use technology.”

The Unity Computer Clubhouse isn’t as concerned with molding entrepreneurs as it is in inspiring children to build, and learn. The program gives a fun, positive after school experience for local kids, where they can work in teams and pursue their interests. Nelson says, the program “serves the needs of our community.” We are “planting the seed of technology and providing a wide range of choices to create.”

The Unity Computer Clubhouse provides classes for children and youth from ages 8-17. It’s easy to enroll, students “just need to sign up and get a signed media release form from parents,” says Nelson. Classes are held different days of the week.

Funding for the Clubhouse comes through a partnership with the Sorenson Center, and the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network. In the last couple of years funding has dwindled and they have been unable to use some of the software that has been donated because the computers are so outdated says, Nelson.

There have been many success story that have come from the early immersion to technology.  Some students have gone on to be professional web masters and graphic designers. Many of these students return to volunteer, teach and give back what the Clubhouse gave them. With this structure and partnership the Clubhouse has been able to continue it’s work regardless of what the economy looks like. The computers may not be the newest but the commitment and desire to bring technology to these kids is there.

On their website you can access the times and locations for the classes that include graphic design, video production, electronics and circuits and even a digital music class.

Most schools in Northern Utah school districts also provide a computer lab for their students where they have access to computers and in some cases the internet for at least 15 minutes a day. Even though this exposure does not compare to the opportunities the Unity Clubhouse provides, “the exposure to technology in public schools is beneficiary”, said Nelson.

At Elk Meadows Elementary, in South Jordan, even the kindergartners get time to learn to maneuver the web.  Some school districts go a step further providing teachers and parents with additional tools to digitize their lives in order to catch up with the young wave of technology savvy youth.

Through the Jordan school district program “Transforming Teaching Through Technology” a group of Technology Curriculum Specialists is available to assist teachers in technology curriculum. Their website has numerous links and resources to enable this process.

Local parent, Vivian Catten has been able to also use technology to teach and entertain her children as well. She’s found many of her ideas on “mom blogs.” Catten has found suggestions for less pricey activities, information for free admissions, daily deals and even coupons on other mother’s websites. Her favorite example “deals on dollar store crafts”, she says. At the same time, she has been able to connect and meet “amazing people in other parts of the world all through blogging.” There are service providers that link “mom blogs” by state, topic or even popularity. Some common sites are Mom Blogs, Top Mommy Blogs, Babble and this only names the first couple that appear on a search. Literally there are thousands of mom blogs out there.

Most federal and local state agencies have blogs that divert information to the public. Some of these include, the White House blog, the Utah Senate blog and the State of Utah blog where you can find links to numerous State of Utah blogs, education blogs, as well as, city and county blogs.

Through a simple Google search parents can get tutorials and resources from numerous sites. Its all free, if there is access to a computer and the internet.  The City Library, Salt Lake County libraries, Universities, Colleges and some K-12 schools provide free access for those who don’t have a computer at home.

Like Nelson emphasized, “the importance of technology is that it opens the kids minds to creating” once they know what they are capable of making, they are unstoppable.

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