WASHINGTON, D.C. – SEPTEMBER 14, 2023 – The Aspen Institute has launched the Kids Are Online to bring communities together to close the digital divide among America’s young people faster and more efficiently. The platform provides success stories for local governments, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, and schools to learn from and tailor to their needs.
“Young people are already taking control of their digital lives, yet too many of them and their families lack equitable access to the internet and the evolving skills needed to truly thrive, with people of color and low-income households falling the most behind,” said Zaki Barzinji, Senior Director at Aspen Digital. “At the same time, communities are uniting around innovative solutions that include, protect, and empower young people online. Aspen Digital is collecting these success stories in one place to help towns and cities across the country connect with each other and take advantage of the wealth of creativity, knowledge, and funding that is already out there.”
A project of the Aspen Digital program, the Kids Are Online is a first-of-its-kind collaborative space that provides real-life solutions to achieving digital inclusion for youth. From budget details to impact numbers, it offers substantive information that anyone can use to form their own plans. The project is supported in large part thanks to The Wonderful Company and its co-owners Lynda and Stewart Resnick, through their foundation.
“In today’s internet age, promoting digital literacy and equity is an essential priority,” said Andy Anzaldo, chief operating officer of corporate social responsibility at The Wonderful Company. “The Wonderful Company and the Resnicks have long been dedicated to addressing opportunity gaps that exist in rural areas like California’s Central Valley where many of our employees live and work. Bridging the digital divide is a necessary component of our work to ensure every child and person has the foundational tools and training to succeed.”
Forty percent of schools and nearly three in ten people in America lack connectivity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, communities innovated to get young people and their families online in a time of crisis. Now, the Kids Are Online is looking to move into the next phase of long-term resiliency, where every young person is connected to their digital lives with dignity.
“It can be hard for a small nonprofit or an under-resourced school district to find tangible solutions that meet the unique needs of their communities,” said Barzinji. “The goal of the Kids Are Online initiative is to arm communities, from small towns to big cities, in urban and rural settings, with the tools they need to go out and get the funding to actually make their projects happen.”
The Kids Are Online helps to take the guesswork out of where to start. The platform has launched with sixteen case studies, representing a range of demographics, geographies, and challenges.
One example is Tanoshi, co-founded by Brad Johnston and Lisa Love, who developed 2-in-1 laptop computers that offer common work productivity platforms like Google Docs and learn-to-code apps for kids between the ages of 6 and 12. “My mom taught in South Central Los Angeles for 50 years,” said Love. “I watched my mom persevere through systemic challenges just to bring her students up to grade level. My mom’s passion for education opened my eyes to the issues surrounding our education system and how I can do my part to help solve these issues through technology.”
Another example is the Office of Community and Economic Development at Fresno State, which harnesses public-private partnerships to provide internet access to, and ensure equal opportunities for, underserved communities in rural areas of the San Joaquin Valley. To date, more than 15,000 parents have participated in digital literacy classes through the Fresno State Parent University program. And approximately 4,000 youth have been provided with access to internet and tech devices through the Fresno State Connect and Fresno State Refresh programs.
“As our digital world continues to grow, it’s important that our communities receive the proper skills and support to grow along with it,” said Eduardo Gonzalez, Interim Executive Director of San Joaquin Valley Rural Development Center.
Aspen Digital is looking for additional success story submissions. Over time, those who participate and share their stories will be part of the larger Kids Are Online community, which will expand to encompass programming with public-facing webinars, collaborative roundtables, and information-sharing opportunities.
The goal is to support changemakers on the policy side, as well. As money is funded from the federal level to support digital inclusion projects, it’s important that policymakers understand the types of approaches that exist. The Kids Are Online is working to provide that proof of concept to expand the imagination of both the communities and the policymakers who are trying to fix these problems in a big way.
About Aspen Digital
Aspen Digital is a nonpartisan technology and information-focused organization that brings together thinkers and doers to uncover new ideas and spark policies, processes, and procedures that empower communities and strengthen democracy. This future-focused Aspen Institute program inspires collaboration among diverse voices from industry, government, and civil society to ensure our interconnected world is accessible, safe, and inclusive – both online and off. Across its initiatives, Aspen Digital develops methods for elevating promising solutions and turning thought into networked impact. To learn more, visit aspendigital.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Aspen Institute
The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.