LA SALLE COUNTY - The Federal Communications Commission has found that more than 24 million people living in the United States, including 19 million living in rural communities, do not have access to broadband internet, an essential service in today’s economy.
The average need for digital skills across 545 occupations rose 57 percent between 2002 and 2016 according to research led by the Brookings Institute. To help close the connectivity and digital skills gap, National 4-H Council and Microsoft’s 4-H Tech Changemaker program is empowering 4-H teens in 91 communities across 15 states to lead digital skills trainings, teach the value of digital tools, as well as find technological solutions to real world problems. Illinois 4-H youth are participating in this initiative.
In LaSalle County, local 4-H Tech Changemakers have been working with University of Illinois 4-H Youth Development Coordinators, community members, Microsoft, and local internet providers to identify the most needed digital skills in their communities and develop targeted digital skills trainings. The training sessions will cover key topics from online safety to computer basics and device training. In the spring of 2019, 4-H youth participated in training provided by the National 4-H Council and Microsoft. While attending a two-day training in Chicago with their county 4-H Coordinator and adult leader, a Plan of Action was created. After the youth returned to their county, planning meetings followed.
4-H Youth Development Coordinator Toni Pienta, along with Tech Changemaker adult volunteer Mary Kraml, led the youth in identifying audiences and selecting proper curriculum based on the needs of each audience. Trainings included mock presentations in which Tech Changemakers practiced specific curriculum and working out details of roles, scheduling and preparation for future trainings to adult audiences.
LaSalle County 4-H Club leaders provided the perfect practice session for Tech Changemakers to implement their presentation and training skills. Tech Changemakers assisted adults in processing online registration via a fair entry data site. Adults were also provided technology support to learn more about 4-H and enrolling youth in the 4-H program.
In October, official presentations were provided at open-houses which took place at the University of Illinois Extension Education Center and Community Teaching Kitchen in LaSalle and at the LaSalle County U of I Extension office in Ottawa.
Future presentations will include: Internet Safety- “Learn the Lingo” and “Are you blocking your kids, or are they blocking you?” In addition, planning is in the works to provide workforce cevelopment training to adult audiences throughout LaSalle County.
The trainings will help the community take advantage of the new opportunities available to them as broadband access reaches their communities. Broadband internet access was made possible by Microsoft’s Airband initiative, which aims to extend broadband to three million Americans living in rural areas by June 2022.
“This program provides a great opportunity for our young people and our community. 4-H youth will improve upon their personal leadership skills while building a connection with adult audiences,” said Pienta.
Parents and individuals seeking more information on how to get involved can reach out to Pienta at the local 4-H office at (815) 433-0707.