Reflections From 10 Years of Verizon Innovative Learning Schools – Digital Promise

Reflections From 10 Years of Verizon Innovative Learning Schools

celebration image with 10 years

August 15, 2023 | By

Digital Promise is excited to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its partnership with Verizon for the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program. What started as eight schools in four districts has grown to nearly 600 schools and more than 100 districts in 2023. To support the exponential growth, the team has expanded from only a handful of employees a decade ago to an astounding 55 today!

As the school year begins, some of the most veteran Verizon Innovative Learning Schools team members at Digital Promise—those who have been a part of the team for five years or more—share their reflections about their time with the program, their favorite memories, and what has inspired their work.

Dr. Sara Martinez Crawford, Deputy Director, Student Impact

My “why” for being part of Verizon Innovative Learning Schools is the potential to bridge gaps and create opportunities for students that can impact their future, and future generations. Not only can this program support a solid foundation for themselves, it can provide a brighter future for the larger community.

One of my favorite memories from my time with Verizon Innovative Learning Schools was a recent school visit. In the school’s Verizon Innovative Learning Lab, a student had designed and 3D-printed a tool that would allow those with arthritis to open prescription bottles easier. She shared that her grandmother suffers from arthritis and she initially thought of this idea to help her grandmother. The sense of pride this student displayed left a lasting impression on me. The student also shared that she has decided to become an engineer because of her experience with Verizon Innovative Learning.

Dr. Sara Martinez Crawford headshot
Dan Foreman, Director of Learner-Centered Experience

I am astounded every day at what we have been able to accomplish. I love when a teacher who was reluctant or uncomfortable at first sees how what we are working on is not only relevant to their students but will also improve their work-life balance—to see someone go from frustration to satisfaction and then champion the work is what makes it all worth it.

My favorite Verizon Innovative Learning Schools memory was an in-person professional learning session in Irving, Texas, several years ago. A storm rolled in and a tornado touched down nearby, so we had to move the entire teaching staff to an interior room of the building, but we kept the session going. The teachers were interested, and despite the storm, they all wanted to complete the training. So we did. And by the time we were done, the sun was shining again.

Mike Mades, Ed.D, Director of Technology

When I first started working with Verizon Innovative Learning Schools, we were onboarding 28 schools in Cohort 4. At the time, schools were only part of the program for two years. I remember being told this was a three-year job, and Cohort 5 would be the last cohort in the program. And there were only seven employees on the team!

Six years later, we are recruiting for Cohort 11, and schools can participate in the program for up to four years. The Verizon Innovative Learning Schools team has grown to 55 people, which is larger than all of Digital Promise on my first day in 2017!

What hasn’t changed? The core components of the program are still strong—every student gets a device with anytime, anywhere access; teachers receive professional learning and support from a tech coach; and school and district leaders can network with their peers around the country.

Dr. Courtney Teague, Deputy Director, Internal Professional Learning and Coaching

Throughout my journey of working to close the digital equity gap, I have transformed into a passionate advocate for equal access to technology and information. This endeavor has taught me the importance of using my voice to amplify the stories of those whose voices have long been suppressed. As I continue on this path, I am filled with a deep sense of purpose and unwavering determination to create a world where every individual, regardless of background, can harness the power of technology for personal growth and societal advancement.

Kristin Townsend, Deputy Director, Operations

I’ve been working on the Verizon Innovative Learning School program since the beginning as a former Verizon employee, and I joined the Digital Promise team in 2016.

I remember the first time we talked about student tech teams and the kinds of students—the quiet ones, the hackers—that could really shine and feel connected to school if given the chance. Every light bulb went off! But hands down, my favorite memory occurred when we visited Lokelani Intermediate School in Maui (Cohort 2). We conducted an experiment that involved using Verizon Innovative Learning Schools devices to record students jumping and capturing the data of how high they jumped, both on the island and at another school in California. Carter, the student responsible for sharing the data, really came out of his shell as the leader of the project in a way that surprised him, his peers, and his teacher. This program allows students to show their learning in new and authentic ways, and often leaves them feeling really proud and capable, in ways they hadn’t before.

Vanessa Zurita, Director, Onboarding and Coaching

One of the most important aspects of the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program is the impact it can have on students’ lives. The confidence that is sparked by being in student tech teams has grown student leaders all over our network. I’ve also seen examples where students’ confidence has impacted their families, communities, and their futures in a transformational way. For example, one student used her skills to enhance her family’s business as a seventh grader! Additionally, a group of high school students developed an app to show the resources available in their community. Ultimately, these students’ confidence also sparked their awareness that they could make a difference.

But it’s not just the students that leave me inspired—it’s the drive of the educators. Education is not a simple process. We have many systems that need to be dismantled in order for equitable experiences to truly be had by all learners. While this is overwhelming, the grit and resilience of the educators in our school systems has taught me that it will happen. The power of educators who have made up their minds that the next generation of learners will have better is enough. I have had countless conversations where I hear about innovative practices being planned and implemented to make change. What equally inspires me is that many of these educators are willing to collaborate with strangers in order to support each other in this shared vision to be better for our students.

To learn more about Verizon Innovative Learning Schools, visit


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