April 8th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

'Brilliant Bus' shrinking digital divide

By Danielle Berger, CNN

West Palm Beach, Florida (CNN) - Working as a guidance counselor five years ago in Palm Beach County, Estella Pyfrom noticed that fewer students had access to a computer after school.

The sluggish economy forced many families to prioritize their money and use it for more pressing needs.

"They needed food. They needed to pay their mortgage or their rent," said Pyfrom, a former teacher. "Some of them lost their cars. So I knew it was a serious problem."

Without a computer at home, or reliable transportation to get to a computer, Pyfrom feared that many of these students would get left behind.

So she bought a bus, filled it with computers and brought technology to the kids.

Her mobile computer lab, Estella's Brilliant Bus, has provided free, computer-based tutoring for more than 2,000 students since 2011.

"If people don't have some knowledge of technology, they're going to be limited," said Pyfrom, who retired in 2009 and used money from her savings to buy the bus. "It's absolutely essential that they get involved technologically."

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Filed under: CNN Heroes • STEM • Students • Technology
February 22nd, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Pairing up to take the pain out of college search

By Danielle Berger, CNN

San Jose, California (CNN) - At 17 years old, Jessica Perez is an honor student who aspires to be the first member of her family to graduate from college.

But when it came to the application process, she felt lost, alone and ill-prepared.

"I didn't really know where to start," said Perez, who wants to be an astrophysicist. "There wasn't really anybody at home that could help me figure out how I could reach my dream."

Perez's grandparents, who raise Perez and her two siblings, both work long hours to make ends meet. And neither continued their education beyond elementary school.

Fortunately for Perez, she was directed by her school guidance counselor to a nonprofit called Strive for College.

"It helps students who don't really know anything about the college process," she said. "College students come to you and they tell you how to do it because they've been through it also."

Strive for College pairs high-school students with college students for free, one-on-one consultation over a yearlong period. Each pair works together through the application process for colleges, scholarships and financial aid.

Michael Carter's nonprofit has already helped 600 low-income students enter four-year colleges and universities.

"We take them through every little step of the process, because, frankly, it's a pretty detailed process - and if you miss one step, you could ruin all your chances," said Michael Carter, who founded the nonprofit in 2007 while he was a college freshman.

So far, Strive for College has already helped 600 low-income students across the country enter four-year colleges and universities. And it expects to help an additional 900 this year.

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Filed under: After High School • CNN Heroes • College • Financial aid