When Mike Stroh shows up to teach computer classes at West Leadership Academy in Denver, he says he encounters a problem that's become too common.
"Every year I have students say to me, 'I'm not good at computers'. Can you imagine if they showed up to a job interview and said that?" Stroh said.
He teaches in a school where 95 percent of the students qualify for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch program which means these families don't have a lot of money.
"These are students whose families tend to have jobs that don't use technology," Stroh said. "They haven't much access to computers."
A recent study by a group called Shift Research shows that in some areas 22 percent of Denver Public Schools students do not have internet access at home.
"In a time when we're trying to teach Twenty-first Century skills, this is a tremendous divide among our most vulnerable students," Veronica Figoli, president of the Denver Public Schools Foundation, said.
Figoli and the DPS Foundation have supported schools with resources to aid in the teaching of technology. But, she says more needs to be done to equal access to the internet between lower-income families and affluent ones.
"For some of our families, this is a matter of food versus internet," Figoli said.
Stroh says that inequality creates a false perception among some students.
"By not using computers at home while so many of their peers seem to have mastered them, they have internalized this idea that they'll never be proficient with technology," Stroh said. "It's almost become a part of their identity."
There are programs out there trying to address the problem like Comcast's Internet Essentials offering home internet at lower costs to families who qualify for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch program.
"The opportunity gap between our most vulnerable students and our affluent students continue to grow," Figoli said.
Stroh says at the school level teachers work hard to address the inequities.
"In the last few years, West Campus has been awarded several grants, most noticeably the YCC (Youth Career Connect) grant, which has allowed us to offer more STEM coursework, including several robotics classes and AP Computer Science," Stroh said. "Providing marginalized students with rigorous coursework, and access to state-of-the-art equipment is essential to bridging the digital divide."
Stroh and other Career and Technical Education teachers from around DPS meet with industry professionals to tailor their classes addressing the needs of local employers. They also work to find paid internships for students who show interest and aptitude in technology.
"We're constantly trying to ensure we're teaching relevant skills," Stroh said.
He continues the fight against a problem he can't tackle alone. A problem, he says, that can cloud the aspirations of students he believes can succeed in technology fields.
"Even when I see potential in them, they don't always see it in themselves," Stroh said.