The following is a recap of a presentation by Amber Schrage, Johnson County Community College ESL Coordinator and Adult Basic Education Instructor, Leslie Dykstra, Johnson County Community College Adult Basic Education Program Director, Pam Rooks, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas Refugee Digital Access Coordinator, Maiwand Momand, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, Arish Rustami, JVS Digital Literacy Coordinator, and Amy Coffman, Welcoming KC co-Chair given to the Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion on January 5, 2023.

The internet is an essential utility, and organizations that help refugees get acclimated to their new home are now adding helping those new to the U.S. sign up for service as well as offering digital skills training to their suite of services. Johnson County Community College, Jewish Vocational Services, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, and Welcoming KC are four organizations working to help provide refugees with digital inclusion programming to support them as they acclimate to their new community.

Johnson County Community College (JCCC) – Johnson County Adult Education (JCAE) at JCCC has been working to integrate digital literacy into their ELS classes, recognizing that mastering digital tools is as crucial as language skills for refugees. The staff has seen the positive effect of technology access on their students, including better social connection, improved communication with family, support from learning, and access to better translation tools. However, they have also seen the risks that technology can present, including cybercrime, an overreliance on technology for translation, and instances of learning incorrect information online without realizing it.

Initially JCAE used North Star for teaching digital literacy, but realized that they needed a curriculum that was more applicable to students’ lives. So the JCAE team developed its own digital literacy curriculum to embed into existing ESL curricula. The team created a set of pre-planned lessons to help teachers understand how to naturally integrate the content into their courses. For example, teachers can have students write an email containing the vocabulary and grammar taught in the class. These lessons are made available through JCAE’s ESL website so teachers can use and modify the prepared materials. Today, the expectation is that each student spends at least 90 minutes a week out of their six hours of class time exposed to digital literacy content.

JCAE received positive feedback from teachers, who reported that students were successfully applying the digital literacy lessons they had learned, and that the pre-planned lessons were an extremely helpful aid for instructors. Moving forward, the team will be continuing to train teachers on the digital literacy plans and add lessons based on needs.

Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) – JVS provides digital inclusion assistance to its clients in four primary ways. The first is Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) enrollment. The ACP is a federal program providing low-income households $30/month to help pay for the cost of their internet subscription. Through partnerships with other community organizations like KC Digital Drive and Goodwill, JVS hosts sign-up opportunities where clients can get assistance from partners in signing up for the program. The second service JVS provides is digital skills classes. Through a partnership with Goodwill, JVS clients are able to enroll in training programs that help them improve their digital literacy and workplace skills. JVS’ third program is scam prevention. Due to the high risk posed to their clients by online scams, JVS staff will meet with clients individually to educate them about how to stay safe online. Finally, JVS also distributes laptops to its clients, with over 100 provided in December alone.

Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas – Catholic Charities provides support for refugee families arriving in the U.S. The digital aspect of this support starts with trying to help these families get a mobile device and Wi-Fi in their home. Most of the families struggle to afford Wi-Fi at their house. While Catholic Charities works with families to help them sign up for the ACP subsidy, often the families will lack a social security number and other official documentation that they require in order to sign up. Even after gaining the proper documentation, families still face significant challenges in getting access. Some internet service providers consistently try to upsell the families on internet plans, leaving many refugee households with unsustainable bills due to their inability to understand the extra conditions that the sales teams are adding. And then even once signed up for service, many families require assistance in setting up their routers and other equipment due to language barriers and a lack of technical knowledge.

While families are going through this process, Catholic Charities tries to help them get a minimum level of internet access by providing families with a hot spot lent out from the local library. Catholic Charities also works to find donated or other low-cost devices to allow individuals to access the internet for work, education, and personal use.

Catholic Charities has also begun developing its own digital literacy curriculum for families after having difficulty finding curricula that were accessible in the context of families’ language barriers. As most learners have little to no prior exposure to technology, this curricula primarily relies on interactive walkthroughs and gamification to help them learn the content. Outside of language barriers, transportation has been one of the biggest obstacles for families. Most do not have access to a car, and not every family lives along a bus route.

Welcoming KC – Welcoming KC is an initiative launched by the Reach Healthcare Foundation and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce to ensure that Kansas City has implemented policies and services to help immigrant and refugees acclimate themselves to their new community. Welcoming KC has seven framework areas with criteria to establish a city’s progress towards getting those policies and procedures in place. Kansas City Missouri is currently working to become certified through Welcoming America by meeting those criteria across all seven areas. Digital access is one component of the certification process, and Kansas City is currently meeting Welcoming America’s criteria in that area due to the work of digital inclusion practitioners across the city.

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