It’s easy to take for granted 24/7 access to technology in this era of smart phones and Pokemon Go.
But for students living in some lower socioeconomic neighborhoods, the internet can be a luxury their parents can’t afford.
This is all changing for five EPISD middle schools selected for the Verizon Innovative Schools grant, a partnership with Digital Promise to provide technology for students in economically disadvantaged schools across the county. Armendariz, Bassett, Charles, Henderson and Morehead middle schools were selected to receive iPads with 4G data plans for all students and staff.
“EPISD was very fortunate in that we were allowed to apply for up to five campuses and each one of the ones that we applied for were accepted in the grant,” said Tim Holt, executive director of Blended Learning.
The five middle schools were the only Texas schools selected among the 25 campuses throughout the nation.
“This is the third year of the grant, and EPISD is the largest single grant recipient of any district in the US,” Holt said. “Our commitment as part of this grant is to take these five schools and start transforming how the teachers and students do lessons.”
The tablets come equipped with a 2-year data plan to ensure students have internet access at home, eliminating a barrier Henderson principal Elizabeth Maldonado has witnessed first hand.
“When I am working late at school, I can see students standing across the street trying to connect to the school’s Wi-Fi so they can do their homework on their phones,” Maldonado said. “This is going to level the playing field for many of our students.”
An estimated 3,800 iPads will be distributed to these five schools in the coming weeks.
“We want to be very clear that this is not about iPads,” Holt said. “This is about leveling the playing field for students that probably do not have internet access at home. It is about making learning go beyond the classroom.”
With this goal in mind each school has a designated storyteller responsible for documenting how the iPads impact teaching and learning on their campus.
Henderson storyteller and art teacher Saul Ramirez looks forward to implementing the technology in his class and teaching new strategies to his chess club students.
“I want them to create digital sketchbooks, portfolios and critiques,” Ramirez said. “We can FaceTime with other art teachers, and see whatâ€™s working with them and what’s working with us. This is going to bring equality to our education. Our students are going to have access to technology regardless of socioeconomic status.”
Preparation for the new technology began at trainings last year as teachers learned to think beyond the traditional worksheet assignments and use programs like ST Math and Office 365 to engage students in different ways.
For Morehead teacher Judith Rogers, the tablets will work hand-in-hand with this year’s launch of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years program.
“When you add the technology component for every student, it really helps drive this program,” Rogers said. “They are immediately able to hook in and become global citizens. It all just works together.”