I volunteer weekly at the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula, or BGCP for short. When I walk into my local Clubhouse, staff greet me by name, happy to see me. I feel welcome. I am happy to be there.

The Clubhouse has a Mac computer lab, numerous touch-screen desktop computers, a cart of Chromebooks and a heavy-duty music/video production space. They have wi-fi, and it (mostly) works. Compared to the average classroom at surrounding schools, the Clubhouse is high-tech.

Still, I would venture to say that only 25% of it is used at any given time. The computer lab stays empty, the Chromebooks sit in the admin office, and only the desktop computers see active use — usually for viral videos of cats and sports cars.

And yet, this all seems ok. The younger kids are busy with homework problems, craft projects or sports. For them, the clubhouse is a fun place where they begrudgingly complete homework to get snack or play outside. For their parents, it’s a reliable daycare while they work one, two, maybe three jobs to make ends meet.

Some older teens use the clubhouse as a source of help for school and college; for others, it’s simply a place they hang-out for free. If you asked those students if they liked BCGP, they would shrug nonchalantly and say, “it’s ok.”

But they come every day. The clubhouse is low-pressure, welcoming and full of kids who understand them, who are also low-income, English Language Learners or undocumented.

At my day job, I help schools implement personalized learning, which often entails advising on how to use technology effectively in instruction. When I work with BGCP, however, my passion for tech-enhanced instruction waivers.

The impact of BGCP comes from the culture they create. Their staff, many of whom once attended BGCP, take marginalized students and teach them self-confidence, self-respect and hope. This happens face-to-face, not via email or online programs.

They see technology as a tool, and they have no problem letting tools sit in the shed when they’re not needed. Most of the time…the tools are not needed.

Could they better leverage the technology they have? Sure. But given that they have little control over the school curriculum that kids bring to the Clubhouse, I’m not positive that digital content, online platforms or fancy collaboration tools would be of much use.

In fact, when I volunteer, I enjoy being able to engage offline with students, undistracted by the jump of an on-screen notification. I see these students when they’re lounging, when their fingers are covered in chili powder from too many Takis*, and when they’re sharing about their single mom who struggles to support six children.

I see sides of these kids that would go uncaptured by a virtual profile (or a templated self, as explored by Audrey Watters and Amber Case). At BGCP, I find that powering down allows me to empower kids in a way that no e-mentoring or digital course would ever allow. That insight stays with me as I sell personalized learning to school clients, keeping in mind that we do lose things when we go online.

Photo Credit: Calgary Reviews

*Takis are a new-ish competitor to Flaming Hot Cheetos. When googling Takis, I came across this inspiring rags-to-riches story of the janitor who pitched the idea for Flaming Hot Cheetos to Frito Lay. I wanted to share!