In honor of Digital Learning Day, a number of education leaders shared their efforts to improve student success despite high poverty and low Internet access at home.
At MC2 STEM High School in Ohio, every student qualifies for a free and reduced lunch — a traditional measure of student poverty level. But they also access science, technology, engineering and math learning opportunities along with tools that let them practice what they're learning.
By the time students reach their junior year, they have become experts at using a 3-D printer and other tools in the school's makerspace. That means they can dream up ideas in their project-based classes and turn them into reality. The learning doesn't stop there, though. The school hires some of the students to work in the makerspace so they can help community members who use the equipment for their project ideas.
"What better way to learn how to do something than to teach someone else?" said Feowyn MacKinnon, head of school.
In Missouri, Jennings School District also has a 100 percent free and reduced lunch rate, and provides extra support for these students, including three meals a day, a homeless shelter and social services. While the district struggled to maintain accreditation for nearly 20 years, it started seeing results when Superintendent Tiffany Anderson came on board in 2012.
For students who don't have access to computers at home, Jennings School District gives technology to recreation centers and other community organizations that students frequent after school. District leaders also built an app that connects families to teacher websites along with other district resources. This way, families can see the instructional videos and activities they're supposed to work on — even if they miss class.
In California, about one-third of students at Coachella Valley Unified School District don't have Internet connections outside of school. In fact, they would sit in the school parking lot in the evening to get their homework done.
That wasn't acceptable to Superintendent Darryl Adams, who insisted that the district could do better for its students. So he led an initiative that equipped buses with Wi-Fi routers and parked them overnight in trailer parks where students live. Now all 100 of the district's buses have Wi-Fi routers, along with solar panels that recharge the bus batteries. Whether students are at home in certain housing complexes or traveling to school, they can access the Internet any time.
Every student from preschool to high school already had a district-provided mobile device, so the addition of Wi-Fi on school buses has practically eliminated the Digital Divide between students who had digital access and those who didn't. Next up, the district plans to become its own Internet service provider with E-rate funding so it won't have to rely on outside vendors.
Internet access at home is critical to prepare students for colleges, careers and citizenship, Adams said.
"I make the joke sometimes that we'll do whatever it takes to educate," Adams said. "We'll put a router on a pigeon and fly it around the neighborhood if we have to. We just believe in this."