Across district lines and even within the same district, students don't always have the same access to technology and educational opportunities. Two superintendents are trying to change that.
In Coachella Valley Unified School District in California, all students qualify for free and reduced lunches. Many of these families live in trailer parks with open sewer lines, abandoned cars and wild dogs everywhere, said Superintendent Darryl Adams, who spoke at the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) Conference in Washington, D.C., on April 5.
Adams led a campaign to put an iPad in every student and teacher's hands, and in 2012, nearly 67 percent of the community voted for a $41 million bond measure that would increase their property taxes to pay for the devices, infrastructure and renovated classrooms.
"If their students didn't have these devices, they would continue to be at a disadvantage," Adams said.
His efforts extended to putting Wi-Fi routers on school buses and parking them in some of the trailer parks at night so students could do their homework — an initiative that President Obama has publically praised. He also made California's A-G courses mandatory for high school graduation so students would have a chance to continue their education, Adams said. California colleges make completion of these classes mandatory for potential applicants.
In Alabama, Superintendent Trey Holladay had to address inequality within Athens City Schools, which won CoSN's 2016 Team Award. Not every student could afford mobile devices, and that meant they couldn't access online resources at home. The PowerUp Program gives every K-6 student an iPad, while seventh- through 12th-grade students receive MacBook Airs. In high school, students can take their devices home so they can continue learning.
To pay for this program, Holladay's team secured 20 percent of Athen's one-cent sales tax for the more than $2 million program, reported The News Courier. In 2015, the district also received more than $48,000 in Appalachian Regional Commission Grants to help pay for devices. Holladay said he wanted top-of-the-line devices that would allow students to create things.
"Our poorest kid and our richest kid have the exact same device, and it's the best we can find," Holladay said.
Through PowerUp, Athens City Schools helps students hone their creativity, communication and collaboration skills as they work on projects throughout the day. Their tech efforts have become part of the way the district operates and have jump-started learning for today's digital students.