Keeping Tabs on the Digital Divide

The LinkAge

Clarksdale Dollars & Sense

Students and their families learn about and sign up for offers at Clarksdale High School.Students and their families learn about and sign up for offers at Clarksdale High School.

“I have four children, all in eleventh grade, so we need Internet. Using the Internet at school only goes so far—so now they can come home and do what they need to do.” – Ms. Black (Parent)

This past weekend, Amber Petty and I travelled to Clarksdale, Mississippi to help launch Clarksdale Dollars & Sense, an exciting new pilot program EveryoneOn has been working on in partnership with American Express, Cable ONE, and Moneythink.

As shown by the American Express documentary Spent: Looking for Change (free to watch on YouTube), money management is a big problem in America. In an age where there are many easy-to-use financial services, it’s unfortunate that Americans pay $89 billion a year in fees and interest for alternative financial services such as check cashing services and payday loans. In response to the overwhelming statistics, American Express developed this three-year pilot program aimed at teaching 12th grade students at Clarksdale High School about financial literacy and equipping all students and their families with the technology and skills necessary to help close the digital divide. By teaching students how to understand their finances and make sound financial decisions now, we can ensure they don’t have to turn to these alternative services in the future.

That’s why we’re working with Moneythink, a nonprofit that works to expand economic opportunity by providing young people with financial education. Trained Moneythink mentors will deliver financial literacy training to 12th graders at Clarksdale High School through the Moneythink smartphone application. To ensure all seniors have access to the curriculum, EveryoneOn will deliver free smartphones to participating students for the duration of the program.

Clarksdale is a small town in the delta region of Mississippi and is well known for its rich historical roots in the origins of blues music. Struggling with poverty and deep historic, systemic challenges, many families live outside the financial mainstream and lack access to home Internet and financial education. Fortunately, due to an unprecedented alignment of local leaders in government, finance, and education, as well as support from national public, private, and nonprofit sectors, economic change is afoot.

Last December, Clarksdale Municipal School District won the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top – District Competition, which will enable every student at Clarksdale High School to learn on a Chromebook both in and outside of school.

In order to address the lack of home Internet access in Clarksdale, we’ve also partnered with Cable ONE to provide free home Internet to all eligible students at Clarksdale High School, courtesy of American Express. Providing home access to broadband is critical to closing the opportunity gap so that learning can continue outside school for all students. EveryoneOn is also helping to facilitate trainings to teach students and parents about digital citizenship, computers, and Internet safety.

The parents and students we met last week are all very excited about the program. Through Clarksdale Dollars & Sense, students will have access to all the advantages that come from having Internet access and financial literacy. “It’s great because most jobs require an online application,” said one parent. Internet access isn’t something all families can afford, but through this program they are becoming aware of the advantages and opportunities home access to broadband will bring to their home.


Reba Watkins is the programs and partnerships manager at EveryoneOn.