By Nick Kaye
Special to The Weekly
BANGOR — More than 97 percent of American classrooms have access to one or more computers, according to a study by the United States Department of Education. The situation in the Bahamas is comparatively dismal.
“I used to live in the Bahamas, and I noticed a real lack of technology there, especially in the Exuma islands” said Andrea Beaulieu, founder of CUBE. “The computers that are there have become extremely obsolete.”
Three months ago, Beaulieu assembled a small team of volunteers in Bangor with the mission of providing technology to students in the Exumas and beyond.
The team produced CUBE — short for “Computers Used in the Bahamas Experiment.” The CUBE package includes all the parts and peripherals necessary for students to build and operate a credit-card-sized single-board computer called the Raspberry Pi, which can be then be attached to an existing display. The package, which costs just over $100, is 6 by 6 inches and weighs approximately 1 pound.
The CUBE team is currently raising money to outfit two schools in the Exuma islands, serving grades one through nine, with eight CUBEs each. In January 2015, Beaulieu and her colleagues will fly down to the Bahamas to deliver the units and spend time at each school training teachers and students about the hardware and software.
The computers run a version of the Linux operating system, and include the necessary software for students to learn the basics of computer coding.
CUBE’s IT specialist, Zachery Schiller, also is developing original programs tailored to the schools’ interests. One school has expressed interest in a program teaching environmentalism, for example.
A big part of the CUBE initiative is ongoing support for the recipient schools.
“We aren’t just dropping off the packages and leaving,” said Beaulieu. “We’re going to continue to monitor the project, and we’ll be in contact with teachers on a regular basis to provide anything they need.”
CUBE will allow Bahamian students to go online and interact with American students at the School of Engineering and Science, for children in grades through seven to 12, in Sacramento, California, and the RSU 3 Middle School in Monroe. This connection is intended to become an ongoing part of each school’s curriculum.
Beaulieu and her colleagues also will provide any replacement parts necessary to keep the computers running smoothly. Each CUBE package includes a paid shipping label, so any nonfunctional parts can be properly recycled in the United States.
In this way, CUBE differentiates itself from other initiatives such as One Laptop per Child, which has received criticism for providing technology without the ongoing support necessary to keep it in the forefront of the classroom, Beaulieu said.
CUBE is also more affordable than similar projects, she added.
The first trip to the Bahamas, including equipment, travel, taxes and levies, will cost roughly $6,500. The CUBE team is working toward this goal through a donation form on their website and community fundraisers. The Darling’s Ice Cream Truck recently collected donations for CUBE outside Metropolitan Soul in downtown Bangor, and is slated to return for the KahBang Music and Art Festival in August.
“I’ll be documenting the first trip, shooting a lot of photos and video. And we’ll use that footage for a Kickstarter page,” said Steve Gray, journalist for CUBE. Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website which allows startups to pitch their ideas to donors worldwide. The documentary-style footage will help capture donors’ interest, said Gray.
The team has big plans for the future. Beaulieu intends to work with the minister of education in the Bahamas to set up CUBE throughout the country. She also has spoken with contacts in Trinidad about the project, and further down the road, she hopes to collaborate with the Peace Corps and other groups to bring CUBE to numerous locations worldwide.
To learn more about CUBE or to make a donation, visit gocube.org or check out its Facebook page. Contributors are eligible for tax deductions and will be credited on the website and in the Kickstarter documentary.