Partnership Provides Middle Schoolers with WiFi-Enabled Chromebooks

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Crescent City Schools has partnered with the Verizon Innovative Learning Initiative to provide 1,250 Chromebooks with built-in WiFi to all scholars in grades 5-8 at all of its campuses. 

“It is the game changer,” Akili Academy Principal Allison Lowe said. “We’re now able to make sure all our families are connected and ready to learn.” 

CCS is the first charter school system in the country to be awarded this grant, with previous winners being school districts. The grant is valid for two years, with the chance to extend for two additional years, and Verizon provides ongoing support. 

As part of the application process, the team from the Verizon Learning Network came and spent a day with our schools and met our leadership teams to evaluate if we had the capacity to pull off doing this program,” CCS Co-Founder and CEO Kate Mehok said. “They wanted to make sure that we would use the grant to rethink the way we provide instruction to our middle school students and not just use it to get more computers in the building. They were very impressed with the thoughtfulness of our school leaders and their instructional teams”

CCS applied for the grant two years ago and was notified of their acceptance in Spring 2019. After acceptance, they began the year long training process, which included getting the CCS teams together. Along with the principal, this includes a Verizon Innovation Learning Schools (VILS) coach to oversee the implementation of the grant, a campus coach dedicated to coaching the teachers on how to integrate the technology at each campus, and a tech person to support the needs of all the teachers and students.

While CCS comes together as one collective team on the project, the grant is being implemented uniquely at each individual campus, Mehok added. 

Normally, the program is set up to have the scholars return to school and then go through six weeks of digital citizenship before they take home the computers, but with the COVID-19 pandemic the implementation of the program had to take place more quickly.

The VILS team worked with CCS to make sure all scholars received a computer prior to the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year. The VLS team also shifted the requirement of its program and permitted CCS to teach digital citizenship while the scholars have the computers, rather than in the weeks leading up to receiving them. 

“I’ve been really impressed with how they’ve adapted their national program to fit the needs of all of our students during this time,” Mehok said. 

The digital citizenship has consisted of teaching scholars about internet safety, as well as how to utilize email and programs such as Google Docs, Zoom, and Flipgrid. 

“One rewarding aspect of teaching digital citizenship has been engaging with the scholars in discussions about the ethics and responsibilities of interacting online with respect to things like data mining, targeted ads, and social justice,” Harriet Tubman VILS Coach Eliece Knight said. 

Mehok also discussed the potential of changing the classroom dynamics through the grant. Whereas a traditional in-person/asynchronous class might center mostly on the teaching of the lesson, followed by a shorter amount of time for students to work on their own, having computers at home with built-in WiFi creates new possibilities for what can happen when students are in person with their teacher and classmates. For example, students can watch from home or on their own time lessons that their teachers have pre-recorded and then have more dedicated class time to discuss or apply those concepts. This flipped-learning model could allow students to work through the lesson completely at their own pace (pausing the lesson or replaying specific sections) and enables more class/synchronous time to be spent experimenting, exploring, or discussing the content.

While it is still early in the program, the scholars have been incredibly engaged and are “becoming technology experts,” Akili Academy VILS Coach Patty O’Rourke said. “They have learned about how to manage their own calendars and are starting to learn good internet habits,” O’Rourke shared. 

In addition to the devices and the new skills the scholars are learning, the VILS coaches hope to broaden the perspectives of the scholars. 

“I think this grant will impact our students’ access to more of the world to discover and develop their lifelong passions,” Paul Habans VILS Coach Erin Theriot said. “Students who have more consistent access to technology are able to explore what interests them and to connect them to resources and others around the world who share those interests.”