Changing Lives Through Computer Literacy

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
The Education Exchange
City & State:
Rhode Island
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

The Education Exchange provides the instruction, tools, and resources necessary to enable students with diverse experiences and skills to achieve greater success in the workplace, higher education, and their daily lives. We strive to meet the evolving educational and workforce development needs of workers, potential workers, and businesses throughout Rhode Island by providing affordable, convenient, and accessible adult literacy, job skills training, and community enrichment programs.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

The Education Exchange is a non-profit provider of affordable, convenient, and accessible adult literacy and job skills training programs throughout southern Rhode Island. In an effort to serve a chronically under-served population, the Education Exchange has partnered with the Bradford Jonnycake Center of Westerly, RI, to offer adult education and job skills training to residents of Westerly, including clients of the Jonnycake Center’s social service unit, food pantry, and thrift shop.Westerly is a southern Rhode Island town that has been disproportionately affected by a significant decline in manufacturing jobs and the current economic downturn, with local unemployment reaching 11.1% in January, 2009. The residents of Westerly who are most likely to be struggling to make ends meet and support their families are those with the lowest educational levels and fewest computer skills. Residents of southern Rhode Island towns such as Westerly also tend to be geographically dispersed, making it a challenge for them to access the support services and job skills training opportunities that are more accessible in large, centralized cities.In the Spring of 2008, the Education Exchange set up a classroom in the Bradford Jonnycake Center to offer adult education and literacy classes to Jonnycake clients and other members of the community in a convenient, easily accessible location. It was quickly determined that computer training was an essential component of any education program designed to help people achieve independence and self-sufficiency. To respond to that need, the Education Exchange instituted computer skills training at the Bradford Jonnycake Center in June, 2008.Using nine donated PCs running Microsoft Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2003, the Education Exchange currently offers a 30-hour Computer Basics class to clients of the Bradford Jonnycake Center and members of the surrounding community. The class provides basic instruction to students who have never used a computer or have very limited computer experience, often having used just one program or performed one basic task.In the hands-on Computer Basics class, students enjoy personalized instruction and learn to: open and close programs, move and resize windows, create folders and shortcuts, perform basic tasks in WordPad and Microsoft Word, use the Internet productively, communicate using email, use basic system tools, and save information to a flash drive. In short, students gain an understanding of how a computer works and learn basic skills that are essential to their ability to gain or retain employment. In less than a year, eight students have successfully completed the Education Exchange program at the Bradford Jonnycake Center, and five are currently enrolled and due to complete training in June, 2009. In that time, the Education Exchange has also offered literacy classes and GED preparation at the Bradford Jonnycake Center. The 24 students who have participated in those classes also have the opportunity to use the computers to study, prepare for the GED, and look for work.Many of the Education Exchange students at the Bradford Jonnycake Center are unemployed, so providing the computers for skills training and job searches is particularly important. These men and women understand all too well that there are few opportunities for workers without computer skills, and the low-skill jobs that are available often don’t pay enough to support an individual, never mind a family. In addition, those lucky enough to find work without basic computer skills quickly learn that their opportunities for advancement are almost non-existent. To combat this persistent lack of opportunity, Education Exchange students commit themselves to gaining the computer literacy necessary to succeed in the workplace. To further support the efforts of job seekers, the Education Exchange offers Job Search Seminars and Resume Writing Workshops at the Bradford Jonnycake Center and at its Wakefield, RI location. In addition to advice on searching for a job and creating an effective resume, attendees have the opportunity to use Microsoft Word to create their resumes and cover letters. Along with basic literacy and computer skills training programs, these seminars and workshops are a key part of the effort being made by the Education Exchange to provide people with the skills and tools they need to secure employment and to succeed in the workplace.Because of the Education Exchange classes, seminars, and workshops, Jonnycake clients and other members of the community are able to search for jobs more effectively. Perhaps even more importantly, they gain the skills necessary to qualify for more positions that pay good wages and offer an opportunity to advance, professionally and financially.In addition to gaining the basic skills necessary for employment, some students find that they have an aptitude for working on the computer and choose to continue their technical education. The Education Exchange offers a variety of more advanced computer classes, including classes dedicated to exploring the capabilities of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. In addition, the Education Exchange offers Microsoft Office Specialist and Microsoft Application Specialist Certification. In the past year, 39 students have participated in the computer classes and/or Certification programs at the Education Exchange’s Wakefield location. The Education Exchange offers affordable, convenient, and accessible adult education and job skills training as well as community enrichment and workforce development programs. Using Microsoft products at the Bradford Jonnycake Center, its Wakefield, RI location, and throughout southern Rhode Island, the Education Exchange provides students with access to the tools, programs, and skills development opportunities they need to succeed in higher education, in the workplace, and in their lives.The Education Exchange will continue to meet the adult education and job skills training needs of the southern Rhode Island community by providing relevant and timely programs, made possible by the Microsoft tools used by students, teachers, and administrators every day.

Submission Category
Transformations to Maximize Impact