Boys & Girls Club embraces technology use

Boys & Girls Club embraces technology use

Jim Hoyt, left, and Kelsie Brouthers, center, of the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket, are joined by Jeff Lavery of Cox Communications outside the Cox Technology Center developed at the club. (Breeze photo by Ethan Shorey)
Instead of banning it, club leaders promote it as a learning tool, focusing on setting parameters and teaching respect

PAWTUCKET – While many organizations don’t allow youths to use their electronic devices on the premises, leaders of the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket say they don’t believe that’s a fight worth having.

Instead of spending time and resources on what can prove to be an impossible task, said CEO Jim Hoyt, the local club’s staff seeks instead to set appropriate parameters and guide the use of computers and cell phones.

At the club, said Hoyt, technology is seen as a tool to promote greater learning and healthier habits among youths, with an extra emphasis on respecting others.

Cox Communications has made the effort possible as an “amazing partner,” said Hoyt, meeting the club’s technology needs at no cost to the organization. The local club has become a sort of “tech hub,” giving students access they might not get at home, said Jeff Lavery, manager of public relations for Cox Communications – Northeast.

“Instead of saying no, you can’t use your device, I would rather have them use it properly,” said Hoyt. Adults at the club are taking the view that phones can be a constructive tool in youths’ lives, he added.

Though pre-teens at the club aren’t allowed to carry their phones around with them, as teens are able to, they are given access to a state-of-the-art technology lab. Students are encouraged to use technology to help them in their after-school learning and other activities.

The first priority at the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket is to have a safe environment, which is why rules are set and young people are expected to abide by them, said Hoyt. The club has firewalls preventing youths from visiting certain sites, and staff constantly monitors use, said Hoyt.

While there are always concerns about technology use even at the club – the bathrooms are the only unmonitored environment – Hoyt said the benefits of maintaining access clearly outweigh the drawbacks. Having a great technology infrastructure is especially important in an age where extra learning in the science, technology, engineering and math fields gives students an advantage, he said.

And all that access to technology isn’t keeping students from the activities typically prevalent at such clubs, said Hoyt. On any given day, members are seen throughout the club participating in a host of activities, from table games to sports.

Central to the efforts to expand programming at the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket is responding to the surge of technology-based learning happening in Pawtucket’s schools, says Hoyt. The activities in the schools directly impact the club, meaning it needs to evolve beyond its traditional role.

While interactive play, reading, lectures and other traditional learning methods are still used at the local club, they are now accompanied by technology-enabled curriculum, using online lessons and laptops and tablets. While the local club is still a place where children can “run, jump, swing and play,” according to leaders, they are also introducing new assets to ensure that students can access technology they need to keep up with schoolwork.

The local club, located at 1 Moeller Place, now features high-speed internet, tablets and 3D printers, made possible through donors and partners such as Cox. Despite the proliferation of technology in the classroom, not all young people can simply plug in and turn on when they’re home, said Lavery and Hoyt.

The Pawtucket club has partnered with Cox on both technology centers within the club and on the Connect2Compete program, offering low-cost home internet for club families on public assistance programs.

“More than the gadgets it powers, the importance of connectivity is what ensures kids of all backgrounds and incomes can log on and keep up,” reads a joint statement. “A student who can’t participate in school activities due to lack of internet access at home is at risk of falling behind and, in some instances, losing motivation and hope. We can’t let that happen.”

Hoyt emphasized that the club is focused on teaching students about using the internet for personal growth and exploration, not bullying and abuse.