Editor’s note: Tia Bethea is Community Impact Manager for Google Fiber – Triangle.This blog was writen at the request of WRAL TechWire.

DURHAM – Every year, the beginning of September marks the end of summer and the transition back to school.  There is amazing energy – kids are ready to learn, excited by the new in their lives – be it subject matter or learning tools or just the cool school supplies.

As exciting as this is, there’s a potential downside: that technological advances will leave some students behind. That’s problematic not just for those students and their families, but for all of us. We need all the creativity and skills of younger generations to tackle the challenges our communities face.

At Google Fiber, we’ve long been committed to helping to bridge the digital divide — the unmistakable line that exists between people with ready access to the internet and the latest tech tools and those without. So on August  23, Google Fiber  teamed with the Durham Housing Authority to host a Back to School Tech Party; inviting all fifth through eighth grade youth living in DHA communities.

In addition to providing 80 supply-stuffed backpacks to kids and teens, we gave them a test drive of Google Cardboard, a step into virtual reality, a potentially transformative way to bring learning to vivid life. We also led block coding activities that allowed kids to build their own emoji and make a yeti breakdance.

While those may seem like unlikely ways to start a coding career, exposure to these projects can help kindle a fire and inspire a young person to pursue his or her own big idea using coding skills. Who knows where the next Google innovation will come from? It could be right here in the Triangle.

The joy in discovery underscores the importance of our partnership with DHA. From the earliest days of Google Fiber through today, we’ve seen the power of local partnerships and how access to superfast Internet – and all the tools that come with it – can drive progress in communities. Not just for tech hubs and entrepreneurs, but for low-income families, who are empowered to reach more opportunities with greater access and training.

These efforts mean more children using computers in after-school programs and STEM classes, more students going online to finish their homework, and more families learning basic computer skills to enhance their lives through job skills and career development.

As the 2017-18 school year gets underway, Google Fiber will continue to focus our efforts on organizations that help prepare residents with needed digital literacy skills, Internet access, and devices.

Oh, and because back to school is also about the gear — you should know that teal and peach were the runaway favorite backpack colors. But it’s really what’s inside that counts.