In 1996, Edison Freire, a bilingual science teacher in North Philadelphia's Edison Fareira High School, set out to help close the 'digital gap' that exists between students attending schools in affluent areas and students attending schools in lower income neighborhoods, such as E. Farerira. Working after hours, Freire organized the Latino Tech Collective, an after-school student group comprised of disadvantaged high school students who spoke little English and had no previous experience with computers. Over the next few months, Freire taught them to design and maintain Web pages, repair and refurbish used computers and provide basic and advanced technical support. Through it all, the students gained confidence and self-reliance and learned the value of knowledge.
Marketable technical knowledge and improved self-esteem themselves were profound lessons for these students—but Freire took his students even further. Believing in the value of giving back to one's community, Freire showed these students how to pass on their knowledge to their peers, family members and adult English learners
In 1998, at the encouragement of several school district administrators, Freire developed a proposal to expand and replicate his project. The Urban Technology Project (UTP), a Philadelphia School District Service-Learning program and an affiliate of Tech Corps-PA, came to life to serve the needs of more students and communities throughout the poorest sections of Philadelphia. As UTP's director and a Learn and Serve Master Teacher, Freire continues to teach students to use technology and then share their expertise in ways that benefit the community.
UrbanTech is dedicated to providing North Philadelphia youth with opportunities to develop service learning activities that facilitate access to technology among their peers, other community members, and local schools and nonprofit agencies. Located in the former Roberto Clemente Middle School, in the heart of North Philadelphia, UrbanTech has established a student-run center for recycling and refurbishing computers that provides students with a broad range of service learning experiences, including business administration, the technical aspects of computer recycling, and the provision of ongoing technical support in the community. Refurbished computers are placed in area classrooms that would not otherwise be able to afford the equipment.
Since 1998, UrbanTech students have engaged in roughly 1,800 hours of service by refurbishing computers or designing Web sites. Among other projects, UrbanTech students have configured or built 300 computers that were then placed in elementary schools in Wilmington, DE. UTP student volunteers provide ongoing technical support via the Internet and telephone with toll-free access for teachers and students in Wilmington. They have also refurbished and installed computers in two computer labs, now used in after-school programs for at-risk students, for Weed and Seed agencies in some of the poorest sections of Northern Philadelphia.
The Urban Technology Project has begun the march against the 'digital gap' in inner-city Philadelphia.