Students without complete computer access are placed at a disadvantage in school

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It seems everyone is online, or soon will be.

photo illustration  Chris Thelen and Stan Dodson/Staff
Chris Thelen and Stan Dodson/Staff
photo illustration

The Pew Internet & American Life Project reported that in 2005, 87 percent of Americans ages 12 to 17 were online, a 24 percent increase from 2001.

Daniel Brooks, 18, a senior at Glenn Hills High School, isn't one of them.

Because of the cost of a personal computer and Internet service, he said, his family can't afford to have an online connection at home. The disconnect turns into a disadvantage, Daniel said.

"It does hurt your schoolwork a little bit," he said. "My fingers get tired of messing around with that pencil. I know (my classmates) have a step up on me with those keyboards."

But it goes beyond just having typed papers.

His classmates can research assignments online, e-mail teachers with questions, take virtual tours, apply to colleges and universities, or browse the Web for news, study resources and information.

Daniel knows what he's missing.

"I'm at a real disadvantage, for real," he said. "It's more like eight out of 10 have the Internet. I'm not the only one without it, but the majority have it."

Nelson Ortiz, 19, has had Internet access for years. The 2006 Greenbrier High School graduate said not having the Internet "would be big."

"It would be a loss of entertainment. It would be an equivalent of no TV. I'd be (angry),'' he said.

Kimberly White, 16, a junior at the Academy of Richmond County, said she'd be at a loss.

"It would be hard. How would I do my projects?," she said. "I need it. It's very important to my schoolwork. I don't use books; I use the Internet. It's my primary source."

Taking away the Internet and computers would be akin to taking away oxygen for a lot of teens.

In January, Richmond County schools blocked access to e-mail sites such as hotmail.com and yahoo.com to comply with federal regulations for their network safety. Students who used the Internet during their free class time felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under them.

Carol Taylor, the county's director of educational media and technology, said she had to put the policy in place because she couldn't filter outside e-mail accounts for viruses.

Some school media center specialists told Mrs. Taylor many of their students were unhappy.

"There were students who had been e-mailing their papers to themselves instead of saving them, and that sort of thing, and they couldn't do that anymore," Mrs. Taylor said. "There wasn't this big upheaval (of concern) but they had just gotten in the habit of doing things that way. They're creative though, and now they've just adapted."

Some are bringing their work in on zip drives, she said, and others have found other ways to get their daily dose of time on the Internet.

Tiffany Blake, 17, can understand the frustration teens feel when they don't have use of the Internet.

The John S. Davidson Fine Arts School senior said that if she didn't have complete access to the Web she wouldn't know how to orient herself.

"It's a good source for everything - searching for prom dresses, for anything at home," she said. "I wouldn't be comfortable with the idea of not having it."

In many respects, Tiffany is right. For some teens, the Internet has become a main source of staying connected and having fun.

With high-powered search engines, games, shopping, online messaging and social networking sites, Web opportunities seem boundless.

Pew projects that this year 55 percent of all online Americans ages 12 to 17 will use online social networking sites.

That's one thing he isn't very concerned about, Daniel said.

"I MISS OUT ON THE SCHOOLWORK aspect and research aspect, but that social interaction - I don't miss out on that," he said.

Because of his good looks and outgoing personality, Daniel said, he doesn't need Internet access to make friends or meet new people. In-person interaction works just fine, he said.

Still, he and other teens not online have to find other ways to make do in an increasingly wired and Web-based world. They can't always be face to face with college recruiters or be able to find everything they need locally.

"Usually, I get somebody who has it (the Internet) to take care of things like that for me," Daniel said. He plans to put a laptop or PC on his graduation gift list so he can get connected. "But the other people, they are lucky to have that."

Teen Board members Brandi Freeman and Larry Blue contributed to this article.

Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or kamille.bostick@augustachronicle.com.

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