New computer lab opens at ARHA’s Ruby Tucker Family Center

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By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)

Alexandria City Public Schools students and their families who live in housing owned by the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority now have access to a computer lab at the Ruby Tucker Family Center, which opened last week at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Donated by International Game Technology, PLC’s After School Advantage Program, the center at 322 Tancil Court in North Old Town received 10 Dell laptop computers, head- phones, mice, a color laser print- er, a wireless router, assorted learning software, chairs and room decorations.

The $15,000 donation was IGT’s 276th worldwide in a program established in 1999 to serve at-risk youth in communities where the company has offices. IGT provides government lotteries and the commercial gaming industry with various products and channels, including the Virginia Lottery, another partner in the venture.

ACPS students through the fifth grade in public housing receive after-school homework and tutoring assistance as well as other programming at the family center, which opened in 2009 and is named for the late Ruby Tucker, a civic activist and advocate on a variety of social services issues.

“Today is a shining example of our partners coming together with us to make sure that we’re providing additional resources and supports to our students,” said Schools Superintendent Alvin Crawley.

An analysis released last month by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers showed that many lower-income children still lack access to in-home broadband Internet. The CEA said that while nearly two-thirds of households in the lowest-income quintile own a computer, less than half have a home Internet subscription.

It means that many students are unable to access the Internet for homework or to communicate with their teachers and other students, which puts them at risk of falling behind on their school- work. The new computer lab is viewed as one way to combat that trend in Alexandria.

“We all know too well about the so-called ‘digital divide’ and the difficult challenges that many children face as they are unsupervised in the critical after-school hours,” said Paul Stapleton, general manager of IGT Virginia. “The divide is being closed, and after-school programs like the one here at the Ruby Tucker center is making a real difference in our children’s lives.”

At the federal level, President Barack Obama announced in July the ConnectHome program, which looks to expand the avail- ability of high-speed Internet through partnerships between communities, the private sector and the federal government. The pilot program launched in 27 cities and one tribal nation selected by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It initially reached more than 275,000 low-income households, and nearly 200,000 children, with the support they need to ac- cess the Internet at home.

Closer to home, officials said that the new computer lab hopefully will inspire a new generation. Addressing approximately 20 local students who live in the vicinity and were using the lab before and after the ceremony, ARHA CEO Roy Priest said its benefits could be far-reaching.

“The next I.T. genius, the next Mr. [Bill] Gates or Mrs. Gates is sitting right out there,” Priest said. “The inspiration for that may come right out of this center.”

Priest said that with up-to-date technology available at the computer lab, students will have opportunities they may not otherwise have been exposed to.

“From working on improved technology, being able to go to school having been exposed to the latest in technology is going to enhance their ability to be even better students than they are right now,” Priest said.

Gaynelle Diaz, center director at ARHA, said its focus is on fostering community and caring for each other, as well as being a place for what she described as “educating, enrichment and empowerment.” Diaz said connecting students at home with what they are learning in school will support learning at home and help them work even harder to achieve their dreams. She said the number of stakeholders in this project show how important partnerships are.

“I just think it’s the best example of how it takes a village to raise our kids together,” she said.

Deborah Tyler, a granddaughter of Tucker who now works at ACPS, challenged students at the new lab to use the new technology for positive change in their lives and the lives of others. She said doing so would be in keeping with her grandmother’s legacy.

“You are the key to our success,” Tyler said. “Our key to success rests in people like you, who embody the spirit of great- ness by saying, ‘Yes I can, yes you can too.’”

Crawley said it is imperative to have a strong support structure in place for students beyond school, and relationships with partner organizations are critical in this effort. He said the new computer lab is a good step.

“This is about ensuring that every student, no matter where they live, has access to the tools they need to learn both in and out of school,” he said. “The words, ‘Every Student Succeeds’ are simple — but it is not a simple matter to put this into practice.”

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