Developing Computer Skills Amidst Pervasive Connectivity Issues

This is one of a series of articles about the realities of internet connectivity and access to devices in Baltimore. BDEC members Nicole Fall and Christina Ralls spoke with Tyrese Myers, a Byte Back student and mother, about her development of computer skills and pervasive issues of connectivity. While the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inequity of access to technology, the need has actually been apparent for some time.

Tyrese Myers, 35, is a student of Byte Back, an organization that provides technical training that will lead to living wage jobs. A student there since February of 2019, Tyrese has certification in Microsoft Word and is working on another certification in Excel. She has also learned job interviewing skills and is looking for a position as an administrative assistant. Tyrese lives in Northeast Baltimore.

She is a foster mother as well as having a child of her own, so Tyrese has a good deal to say about the current state of access to WiFi and devices for youth in schools. When the quarantine started, she had four children living with her.

Tyrese says:

“Since the pandemic started in February, the connectivity has been very off. It’s been a struggle. I am a foster mom, so I do have children that have to be in virtual school and the connectivity is horrible. Everything is run by internet like your televisions, phones, WiFi , computers, laptops, tablets, etc.

Connection will completely black out. Like it would just stop from the modem and you have to restart it up. And then I’m connected with Comcast. Comcast, you have to make a call. And then if you get to talk to someone from help desk, they talk you through what you need to do. But then if that doesn’t work, they will send a technician. And sometimes the technician might take two to three days… basically you lose a lot when you’re trying to be online and in school and things like that.”

Tyrese talked about the school system giving every household one laptop and one hotspot. She said that Byte Back was able to provide more devices for her family, and noted that while Comcast does have an “internet essentials” program for low income families, the connection is not strong enough when multiple family members are trying to do virtual learning online.

“I went onto 5G with Comcast. It wasn’t helping… I would have to literally take my laptop and put it into my ethernet cord to get a perfect connection. And that’s horrible, and you can’t move around the house, and right now you have to multitask. You can’t just sit in one space for hours, and then you have to cook, you have to clean, you have to do errands and things of that nature. It wasn’t helping in any shape or form. So I thought that increasing my speed would be better, but I still had some setbacks.”

When asked about using other available resources like libraries for connectivity, Tyrese says that there are children who still do not have computers and WiFi at home, so the libraries are difficult to go to as there are many waiting to use them. When asked about the resources that Byte Back provided, Tyrese offered glowing praise:

“I was able to obtain certifications to get a better career to take care of myself and my family in a better way. So yes, I’m very grateful. And I really stumbled across it on a on a whim, actually, because I was going to South Baltimore Learning Center just to increase my skills in math for my kids, because now the math is totally different from what I remember. Yeah, I felt so out of place. So I looked online, and I went down to South Baltimore Learning Center. So then Chrissie, James, and my teacher, Mr. Craig, came into the classroom, and they pitched about Byte Back and I was interested and they couldn’t have come at a better time. We’d had to do everything virtually. So that was like a double plus for me… because at first, I didn’t have technical knowledge, really.”

Tyrese’s story highlights the digital divide in Baltimore, a problem that continues to be exasperated by COVID-19 shutdowns.

“Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to speak out about the technical issues, and limitations that myself, and my community is facing during the pandemic. I deeply appreciate that.”

Members of the Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition, including Byte Back, are working together to close the digital divide in Baltimore City. We invite you to learn more about BDEC’s efforts and how to get involved. If you or someone you know needs support accessing a device, obtaining a reliable internet connection, and/or digital skills training, we are collecting local resources on our Resource Page. We also invite everyone to celebrate Digital Inclusion Week 2020 with us, sharing stories of how the digital divide impacts Baltimore residents and what can be done about it.

Nicole Fall is Community Arts Manager for Baltimore Clayworks. Christina Ralls is Director of Workforce Development and Social Enterprise at Art with a Heart.

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