Rebecca Huval | August 14, 2016
Just two hours outside of futuristic Silicon Valley, the county of Fresno, California, looks like a time capsule from the 1970s. Beyond the prom dress shops with their cartoonish window paintings, the vacant lots, and the brutalist AT&T building that seems to lack windows, you’ll find the Parc Grove Commons housing projects. Inside the community room, 45 adult students are learning about the internet. On this sunny summertime Thursday, every single student has shown up to class.
Today, they’re learning about email. “Instead of putting mail in an envelope and waiting a couple of days, you can send a message instantly,” explains the teacher, John Gonzalez. An older student responds with delight: “Oooooh.” At the end of the nine-week class—organized by the Fresno Housing Authority and California State University (CSU), Fresno’s Office of Community & Economic Development—students with perfect attendance will earn an HP laptop.
Racheale Mitchell, who lives in the apartments, is attending because she had once lost a job offer as a result of her limited access to the internet. The 28-year-old had been driving 10 minutes to her cousin’s house to use his computer. Sometimes, she would drive to the library, but she was often given a numbered ticket and told to wait. Since then, she’s landed a job with the public school district working as an attendance clerk, and she wants to be able to update students’ files from home.
“[The internet] should be a right for everyone,” Mitchell says. “You can’t even go into a store and fill out a job application anyone. They say: ‘We’ll email you back for the interview.’”