Because of differences in lower-income and higher-income schools in Maryland's Prince George's County, not every student has access to identical technology -- and both government and education leaders are working to change that by partnering with the private sector on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and communication pilot in the cloud.
The county's IT office and school system worked with the Maryland-based company Lockheed Martin to tackle this unequal access challenge creatively, something that the global security and aerospace company does for a living, said Vennard Wright, director of the Office of Information Technology and CIO for the county. This is the first step in the county's quest to work with industry on different problems.
By testing cloud-based tools that can be accessed anywhere, the county hopes to give each student a better chance to learn with technology, no matter their circumstances, Wright said. "We’re looking to level the playing board across the entire school district."
Part of that leveling includes moving to hands-on, project-based learning that integrates STEM. Initially, some teachers and students in three lower-performing high schools will access digital STEM resources and communicate with cloud tools for 90 days. The cloud-based communication tools will allow them to video chat with NASA engineers, collaborate with their peers and bend their teachers' ears.
The education pilot is one piece of a broader Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative in the county. The initiative identified six locations that face particularly tough economic, health, public safety and educational challenges and pulled together resources from different county departments to improve them. Some of the key indicators they're trying to address include pedestrian fatalities, third- and fifth-grade test scores and Section 8 housing for low-income tenants.
“This is just a way for us to be able to provide hands-on expertise to hopefully improve the overall prospects for our county students,” Wright said.