Every school has a story, and when it comes to closing the digital learning gap and spreading innovation across the U.S., often it’s the stories of success that make the biggest impact, more than any piece of technology.
Digital Promise and Verizon are partnering with eight U.S. middle schools to create innovative learning environments and document the process so others can learn from their experiences. Each student and teacher receives a tablet equipped with a two-year, 5-GB monthly data plan. Each school has it own coach who will support the teachers in the development of personalized professional development goals.
In documenting this work, we will create an online guidebook that highlights the victories, challenges, strategies and lessons learned. Schools were selected to represent the varied demographics, geographies, and resources of American public education. Here are the schools whose stories we are excited to tell.
Rancho Minerva Middle School
Vista Innovation and Design Academy (VIDA)
Upon visiting Rancho Minerva and Vista Innovation and Design Academy (VIDA), you first notice two things: the eagerness of students to participate, learn and persevere and the passion of educators to create a high-quality learning environment that supports all learners. These schools, located about 25 miles north of San Diego, experience high rates of poverty and English language learners, among other issues, and are working to overcome those challenges through a process of transformation and rebirth.
Led by Eric Chagala, VIDA will reopen this month as a new school centered on design principles. The school’s focus on STEM opportunities will serve as a great model for other schools in the project. Under the leadership of Ben Gaines, the faculty at Rancho Minerva is changing the culture to one of respect and grit. Ninety percent of students do not have Internet access in their homes. By providing these students with mobile devices and internet access in school and at home, the project will ease the digital learning gap and provide new opportunities to learn. As we tell Rancho Minerva’s story, we’re pleased to have the help of the student video journalism team, which we met on our first visit.
FDR Middle School
Armstrong Middle School
When we visited Bristol Township School District, Superintendent Sam Lee invited us into his office to discuss the district’s past and hopes for an emboldened future. He explained that after World War II Levittown, PA, became one of the nation’s first planned suburbs, offering affordable homes for skilled blue collar workers. Like other regions in the manufacturing belt, however, in recent years the area experienced the loss of good jobs, creating challenges across the community. This project will help equalize access to digital tools for all middle schoolers in the district and provide opportunities to Bristol Township students that are afforded to students in wealthier neighboring communities. Meeting the principals of the schools, Kevin Boles and Ed Dayton, and speaking with the faculties confirmed our growing understanding of the district’s determination to use this project to transform learning in the Bristol Township middle schools.
Carroll Leadership in Technology Magnet Middle School
Dr. Todd Wirt, the assistant superintendent for the Wake County School System, was formerly the principal at Mooresville High School, known world-wide for its highly successful digital conversion for all students. To say he has keen insight about powering up learning with technology would be an understatement.
At Carroll Middle School, this project is the right fit at the right time. As it becomes a technology and leadership magnet school, led by energetic and passionate Principal Cindy Keech, the school’s leadership, faculty, and students have worked hard to change the school culture and they are clearly excited about this project. This project will help them take the next step to realize the vision they set for the school.
Chute Middle School
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School
Principal Jim McHolland is known widely for the fine work underway at Chute Middle School. Identifying Jim for this project led us to involve the middle school grades of the King Arts Lab School, a K-8 arts magnet led by Jeff Brown. When visiting the schools we were inspired by the strong support for the project from faculty. Both schools feature active arts and technology programs that will help us strengthen STEM efforts across the project and add the arts focus to expand to STEAM.
We identified the middle grades at this K-8 school in the Raleigh area as a great partner to the King Arts Lab School in Evanston. As a charter school, PreEminent brings different procedures and practices to the project that may be useful for others. The student body and faculty are smaller in number than other schools, thus allowing for more personal interaction. We experienced this in a meeting led by Principal Melanie Butler-Williams, where faculty members explained how using these flexible and powerful digital tools with students to completely erase the digital divide will transform learning and teaching across the school.