Kristi's Kids

Mar 27, 2013 1:00 AM

Virtual Learning Center serves Tohono O'odham Nation

Selles - Poverty is a serious problem on the Tohono O'odham Nation impacting hundreds of kids.

Nearly half the population lives below the poverty line and fewer than half complete high school.

"Back then I didn't really think of education much," says 44 year-old Rose Ortega.

Rose grew up in the district of Gu-Vo. She never finished traditional high school.

"At my age there's a lot of people that don't have diplomas or either a GED."

Now she's raising her own family here. And Rose wants to see her kids succeed.

But here's the challenge: The average per capita income is $7,000 with an unemployment rate of 42% on the Reservation.

Gu-Vo is the most remote of 11 districts. It is home to about a 1,000 members some in homes without running water. There are about 300 school-age kids but the bus ride can take 1.5 hours each way. That's one factor leading to a high drop out in Gu-Vo.

Now they're rolling the classroom to the kids. It's called the Virtual Learning Center: A bus loaded with laptop computers. It is a project of the Native American Advancement Foundation.

The goal? Keep kids engaged and on board so they don't drop out.

The bus sets up near Wi-Fi hotspots for a couple days each week, in the remote villages of Gu-Vo.

"They're already there lining up when we get there. And we're like, 'Ok we have to set up, and then you can come on board,'" says Selina Jesus, Program Director.

The computers are loaded with learning games for language arts, math, science, and reading and writing.

There's also a G.E.D. curriculum and Rose is using it for community college. Her son Valenti says the Virtual Learning Center is a big help.

"When I do the math, the questions that I do at school, some of the questions are in the math game."

Valenti's mom tells us she believes this access will motivate him to stay in school, graduate and go on to vocational training or college.

The price tag for the bus and computers is $30,000. There will be ongoing expenses for gas and maintenance. And the Foundation hopes to add more buses soon to serve kids on the entire Tohono O'odom Nation.

Click here for more information on the Virtual Learning Center.

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