Objective: To spark an interest in technology among at-risk youth to help them succeed in the digital age.
In a Nutshell: Using an internally developed curriculum, WiredWoods helps youth develop an interest in and understanding of information technology (IT) resources through hands-on creation. Youths learn to take digital pictures, edit images, combine them with text they write and build websites that communicate their stories.
Where It Happens: The program is designed to be integrated into the activities and surroundings of a host site interested in working with the group. After operating for its first two years at a lakeside camp site in Duxbury, Mass., WiredWoods now works with 15 partner sites: two overnight summer camps; three Boston schools; and 10 urban community organizations, including five Citizen Schools campuses, Madison Park Development Corp. and Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción/El Batey.
When It Began: WiredWoods was founded in 2000, and the following year launched a program with its first overnight camp partner, Crossroads for Kids. Originally just a summer camp program, WiredWoods is now offered year-round at camps, after-school programs and some schools.
Who Started It: Paul Deninger, with the help of his wife, Lori. Paul Deninger is chairman and CEO of Broadview, a leading marketing and advertising adviser serving IT, communications, healthcare technology and media companies.
Who Runs It: Executive Director Dana White, a former technology marketer at Microsoft and Avid Technology and investment banker with Broadview. Assisting White part-time are two teachers (a manager of year-round programs and a teaching coordinator) and an education reformer who serves as academic adviser. This year, WiredWoods expects to train more than 30 people to serve at the sites as teachers, many of whom are staff members of the partner agencies.
Early Obstacle: The staff quickly realized the need to expand beyond summer camp programs to maintain ongoing communication with participants and attract more funding. “Keeping up with students and reinforcing their technology skills during the school year is critical to long-term success,” says White. “Plus, having a year-round program was a requirement of many potential funders. They were far less interested in summer-only programs.”
How They Overcame It: WiredWoods began creating partnerships with local schools and community-based organizations to offer both in-school and after-school programs. This allowed Wired Woods to offer its summer participants more year-round options and provided more opportunities for long-term projects. For example, at TechBoston Academy, it created websites for chemistry, English and Spanish classes (www.techboston.org/tba/teaching_learning/curriculum.htm) and an online school newspaper (www.techboston.org/tba/students/index.htm).
Cost: Approximately $250,000 per year. Youth participate for free, although some pay to belong to the partnering organizations.
Who Pays: Funders include the Paul F. and Lori A. Deninger Foundation, The Boston Foundation, Sun Microsystems, IBM Corp. and Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Who Else Has Kicked In: Each community organization, camp or school raises funds for a significant portion of the program. For example, Crossroads for Kids obtained a grant for its WiredWoods partnership from State Street Corp.’s Global Philanthropy Program. Adobe and Epson have donated software, printers and scanners.
Youth Served: WiredWoods has served almost 500 at-risk youth ages 10 to 18. Of these, 64 percent have been African-American, 19 percent white and 15 percent Latino. Fifty-three percent of the participants have been females, which is noteworthy, because youth technology programs typically attract mostly males.
Youth Turn-On: The challenge of creating a professional-looking website, and the opportunity to express themselves and voice their opinions.
Youth Turn-Off: The stress of completing their projects before the end of the program.
Research Shows: Before and after surveys from last year show that youth are more confident in their ability to figure out computer programs and are using computers more often for purposes other than playing video games and downloading music. With more long-term programming now, White says she expects to measure more indicators of long-term impacts of the program, such as academic achievement and improved technological capabilities.
What Still Gets in the Way: Funding and staff size. “We only have one full-time and six part-time staff members,” says White.