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Educational Technology Foundation keeps schools in need up to date

Move aside, libraries and encyclopedias. Computer screens, thumb-swipes and really strong Wi-Fi are the new keys to success.

But schools that can’t afford new technology may cause young students to lag behind their peers at affluent schools.

The Educational Technology Foundation of Western New York hopes it can keep that from happening.

The local volunteer group installs computers and laptops, donated by local businesses and companies, to underserved schools and community centers.

Tuesday was its 12th annual Ed Tech Day, and more than 100 volunteers wired classrooms, reconfigured computer labs, set up servers and added wireless Internet connections in 12 local schools and community centers.

“Kids are the future, and having access to technology is something they need to have,” said Steve Dietz, an information technology coordinator for Suburban Adult Services Inc. “Otherwise, they’ll be left behind.”

That’s why Dietz, 28, has been volunteering each summer since 2008. Tuesday, he was the site leader at Our Lady of Black Rock School, overseeing the volunteers’ installation of 25 desktop computers and 17 laptops.

It was a big day for the pre-K-through-eighth-grade school.

About 80 percent of its students live below the poverty level. Many are immigrants and are still learning English – in fact, English isn’t the native language for 28 percent of its students.

There are 18 languages floating through the halls. Many students emigrated from Eastern Asia, North Africa, South America and the Middle East.

“They rarely have this technology at home,” said Charles Pyrak, the vice chairman of the school’s board of trustees. “So to have Ed Tech here and the donations of used computer equipment is God-sent for their educational purposes.”

In today’s age, the school’s youngsters need access to the Internet and technology to compete with their American-born peers for jobs.

And Our Lady of Black Rock is a tuition-based Catholic school. It has a limited budget and can’t afford any “extras,” said Principal Martha Eadie.

“Especially for refugees and immigrant families, the parents want a better life for their kids,” Eadie said. “They’ve got a lot stacked up against them.”

Eadie applied for Ed Tech Foundation’s help when she took over as principal in 2009, and the volunteers have modernized the school little by little each summer since. Now, there’s at least one computer in each classroom and an upgraded wiring system – big steps for a school that was technologically outdated.

Come fall, students will have even more access with these new computers, including apps to help them learn English, digital math programs and Microsoft Word.

This year, Triple A, Catholic Health Systems and Ecology & Environment donated used computers, laptops and printers. Dietz estimated about $10,000 worth of hardware and services was donated at each site, totaling more than $100,000.

Since a former Catholic Health manager founded the group in 2003, the Ed Tech Foundation has donated its services to more than 90 schools, organizations and community centers throughout Western New York.