Frances Millen, 17, of Davidson, N.C., a senior at William Amos Hough High School, has helped level the technology playing field for students in need in her community by providing them with more than 4,000 laptops, along with software and internet access, through a nonprofit she co-founded in the seventh grade. “In middle school, I noticed that all of our homework seemed to be online, but I knew that not all of my classmates had the technology to do it,” said Frances. “It didn’t seem fair.” A conversation with her parents got her thinking about how to close this “digital divide,” and with the help of her father, she hatched a plan.
Her initial idea was to help students in need at her former elementary school. She identified 54 kids whose families had no computer at home and then raised money to furnish them with refurbished computers and new software, persuaded the mayor of her town to provide low-cost broadband access, and found college students to teach the families to use the technology. Then, when Lowe’s Home Improvement offered to give Frances 500 decommissioned laptops per year, she decided to expand her project to 140 public schools in Charlotte. She began asking area businesses for donated laptops and hosting an annual “Mega Lemonade Day,” a day when kids from 100 elementary schools set up lemonade stands all over the county to raise money. So far, the “Eliminate the Digital Divide (E2D)” program has distributed more than 4,000 laptops and opened technology labs at three high schools where students are paid twice the minimum wage to refurbish computers. “It is critical that students today have computers to do their school work, or they’ll be left behind,” said Frances.