Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Diana Rodrigez grins at her dad who sits next to her when a sentence she has cut from another document magically appears on the computer monitor before her. The Computers for Youth teacher switches between English and Spanish to accommodate the diverse parent-child population gathered at Leonardo da Vinci Middle School in Corona, Queens, New York on a Saturday morning for a first lesson in technology.

Another dad in the front of the room yawns. He’s just gotten off work and would normally be home asleep, but he has to attend the class in order for his son to take home the free, refurbished computer offered to families by this program that puts parents together with their children to learn some basic word processing skills.

The director of the program, Kavita Gilchrist, says that many of the 700 6th graders at this school will attend one of the Saturday morning classes with a parent so they can access the computers, even though the program can no longer offer Internet access.

In front of Diana a boy can’t get the hang of the double-click. He tries again and again, his third finger awkwardly getting in the way. I am reminded not to assume that all 6th graders in this country have mastered the double-click or the right-click.

I have to listen carefully to understand a teacher talking in another room to a group of Spanish-speaking families about the importance of parents monitoring what children are accessing on the computers. In Spanish, he explains My Space and Facebook and tells parents that these 6th graders are too young to have an account.

In most cases these families will be unable to afford to hook up to the Internet, but the software downloaded already into the computers will allow children and parents to access language skills and math skills that already are boosting test scores for the children in this low-income neighborhood, according to Principal Lisa.

What does this have to do with reducing unintended pregnancy among women 18-30? When you give girls opportunity, you nurture dreams of extended education and job opportunities. You offer them choices about when, how often and even if to have children.

It’s the joy of opportunity I saw on the face of Diana Rodrigez, and I saw that joy mirrored in the face of her father, who had made a sacrifice to be there and make sure his daughter had that opportunity.