John R. Oishei Foundation Partners CFC School to Home Technology Program


John R. Oishei Foundation Partners

CFC School to Home Technology Program- Click here.....Learn More



Helping to Bridge the Education, Language, and Technology Gap

--by Christine Carr

“i want to learn more about computer,” one parent writes in an email to Heather DiGiacomo ,the

Instructional Technology Coach at International School #45.  This may look like something as simple as

an email with a message, but for the refugee families of International School #45; this is large in scope,

and part of a bigger picture of accomplishments witnessed through the “School to Home”, Technology

Training Program.

At the start of 2013, twenty Burmese families from the International School #45 participated in a pilot

program that was designed to help bridge the digital, language, and educational divide in the use of

computers to communicate with the school and their teachers.  The program was created by Computers

For Children through a grant funded by The John R. Oishei Foundation.

The request started by community activist, Zaw Win, owner of West Side Value Laundromat, which

houses the WASH Community Project, to Paul Hogan at The John R. Oishei Foundation for computers to

send home to Burma. Paul saw the opportunity of using the computers in Buffalo to better connect the

refugee population. “Having access to a computer and internet connection is essential to learning,

finding work and support, and maintaining relationships with others who are often far away,” said Paul T

Hogan, vice president of the Oishei Foundation. “For many people, the public library serves this purpose,

but here, with Zaw’s dedication and ingenuity, families have access right in the neighborhood. We’re

pleased to support this effort.”

Interestingly, when Hogan approached Christine Carr, executive director, Computers For Children, the

organization (CFC) was already working on solutions for a “School to Home” technology-training

program. CFC was looking to help further bridge the technology and digital literacy gap between schools

and student’s homes. A conversation started with Buffalo Public School Board member, Lou Petrucci.

As past board president he described that the board had a challenge, “Many of our families have

difficulty or limited access to the Internet. This is a serious impediment to research, applying to the BPS

NOTE:  Article will be featured in the Buffalo Public Schools Newsletter, Electronic Newsletter, John R. Oishei Foundation

website feed, Facebook, CFC Newsletter, Facebook, etc. as well as partner sites, est. distribution – over 250,000. or college or employment, or even engaging with their children's school or the district. We are exploring

ways to improve this situation."

The program took many partners in collaboration and a three-pronged training approach to find out

what would be most effective for future trainings. The families received trainings by CFC trainers. CFC

Program Coordinator, Genna Mitchell, developed specific curriculum to include computer basics, email,

internet search, NFTA bus schedules, an introduction to the Buffalo Public Schools website and parent

portal, and English language links. “Many of the families we worked with had never placed their hands

on a keyboard or a mouse, so it was interesting to observe how a tool that has become such a vital part

of our everyday lives had just been introduced to theirs. I'm excited to see the long term effects of this

program.”  The Burmese families were very interested in news from their homeland and even the

refugee camps they once lived in. A team of interns from UB’s Career Center were additional support

staff to assist with the training project.

Buffalo Public School #45, The International School, reinforced the learning. Technology Coach, Heather

DiGiacomo, and Isabella Keegan, the Library Media Specialist, taught the students and their families

selected computer basics. Along with the pre-training conducted at the WASH Project and International

Institute of Buffalo, training continued with the parents bringing them into the school to teach them

how to use the school district’s website, find the teachers’ webpage, and further locate additional

resources. ”For so many generations, children have brought new skills to their households through the

schools as part of assimilation and lifestyle,” said Buffalo School Superintendent Dr. Pamela Brown.

“This project is one more of those venerable collaborations that will raise communication capabilities

and impart useful skills in bridging gaps and removing barriers between school and home.”

To complete the circle of training, the families received a computer for their home provided by a

partnership with First Niagara Bank. This type of program opens up a door of communication between

the teacher and parent, and allows students to check on homework assignments and even to email

them into their teacher.

As we start the new 2013-2014 school year, some of the early on evidence of success witnessed at the

end of last school year and shared by Heather DiGiamaco, “My Teacher Page shows a breakdown from

grade levels to visitor hits, with one row labeled, ‘Computers for Children’, which hosts all of the training

materials for the program. One can see the visitors hits per month, after implementation which had

significant impact with the most amount of visits overall.  This tells us that parents and students were

logging on to the site at home after the instruction.”  “Additionally, on the sixth grade teacher’s website,

one student in her class participated in the pilot program. On her Teacher page she provided this

student homework assignments, content-centered Websites,  digital issues of magazines and weekly

readers. Evidence of the usage of these resources can be found in the Homework page and ELA pages”.

“When First Niagara heard about the opportunity to partner with Computers for Children, we knew it

was an opportunity to make a significant difference in their lives,” said the Executive Director of the First

Niagara Foundation Elizabeth Gurney.  “We hope our support will help these students and their families develop the technology and life skills needed to achieve independence and success.  We hope to inform

and inspire them to be all they can possibly be.”

“Technology is not going away and as our Buffalo School District moves closer to utilizing on-line web

systems for administration, on-line registration, homework assignments, and teacher/parent

communication, we see this digital literacy and access gap as a serious problem for our community.  

Many of the other school districts are already up and running with a parent portal. The Buffalo Public

School District now has one in place; the key is awareness, training, and access”, states Christine Carr,

executive director of Computers For Children.  “However, the city’s challenges are different and unique

than the other school districts with the barriers of language, culture, literacy, and economics that

require creative solutions to support training that brings schools and homes closer together”.  

Most of us take for granted a broadband connection to the internet. According to recent surveys in the

City of Buffalo nearly 60% of our homes and 40% of school age children do not have a computer in the

home and are not connected to the internet.

As we can see from the recent results, it reinforces what we at Computers For Children has been

striving to accomplish over the past fifteen years helping to bring schools, youth and homes closer and

bridging the divide; kids lead the way.”  In all of the study environments it was most effective when

parents and youth were placed together for the trainings,” said Carr.  Mitchell added, “Having worked

with the Burmese/ Karen [kuh-ren] population in the recent past on ESL instruction and community

adaptation, the need was obvious. We have thousands of refugees resettled on the west side of Buffalo

adjusting to life in our city, becoming a part of our community, and most importantly- adapting to our

education system.”

As this program moves forward, our goal is that more families will be able to receive the same

instruction and make that connection with their children’s teachers. We, at CFC, are grateful to the John

R. Oishei Foundation for providing the funding for the pilot program which facilitated the computer

instruction and the home installs; and to our Buffalo Public School Team at School #45, Principal Nadia

Nashir,  Isabella Keegan, director of library services, and Heather Digiacomo, technology instructional

coach who provided the necessary reinforcement to the students and parents. Additional credit goes to

the First Niagara Foundation for providing the computers through a donation to Computers For

Children. The International Institute of Buffalo for their partnership of facilitators and providing valuable

resource and coaching to Computers For Children about our refugee population. Expanding technology

resources through generosity of John R. Oishei Foundation, the International Institute of Buffalo now

has a computer learning lab in their environment on Delaware Ave., to support to their volunteers who

help with daily with refugee resettlement here in our city.  Additionally a community computer learning

lab is now available at the WASH Project with Zaw Win of the West Side Value Laundromat.

# # #About Computers For Children, Inc.: Since its founding in 1997, CFC has donated more than 15,000

computers to schools and our community, and trained hundreds of at-risk youth on state-of-the-art

computer applications, providing students access to technology and training; and helping to close the

digital literacy divide for education and career opportunities.  For more information visit:

About The John R. Oishei Foundation: The John R. Oishei Foundation strives to be a catalyst for change

to enhance economic vitality and the quality of life for the Buffalo Niagara region. John R. Oishei

established the Foundation that bears his name in 1940 with the mandate to concentrate support on

medical research, healthcare and education in the Buffalo area along with cultural and social needs. For

more information visit: