Students react to the news. Image via APS.
In efforts to close the “homework gap,” every sixth and seventh grade student in Atlanta Public Schools (APS) received a free laptop on Friday as part of the new APS Digital Bridge program. The laptops were a complete surprise to these approximately 6,000 students.
The goal of this program is to provide students the digital tools they need to be successful and ensure students have a seamless experience with digital resources from school to home, according to program materials. Many people – including educators – assume Internet access and other technological tools are readily available to everyone, but research shows that’s not the case.
According to Axios, About 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires broadband Internet access, but nearly 1 in 3 households don’t have it. What’s more, according to numbers from the Pew Research Center, 35 percent of teenagers say they at least sometimes rely on their cellphone to finish their homework. That number goes up to 45 percent for teens living in households that earn less than $30,000 a year. Another 12 percent of teens say they at least sometimes use public WiFi to complete homework assignments because they don’t have a connection at home.
FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel says solving this problem is critical. “It’s the most important issue of digital equality we face. It’s not about indulgent surfing online, it’s about teaching students how to use resources online to supplement how they find information and understand the world, she said in a statement. “We’re going to harm their ability to perform jobs, the majority of which now require digital skills.”
The program kicked off Friday, Feb. 8, at 1 p.m., at Brown Middle School and was made possible by a $1.5 Million EmpowerED Program grant from T-Mobile, resources from other programs and district operating funds, according to program materials. APS will be investing an additional $3 million in school year 2018/2019 and $1.5 million in school year 2019/2020 thanks to voter approval of ESPLOST.
“T-Mobile believes every child deserves the tools they need to be successful in today’s fast-paced, digital world, and our EmpowerED program furthers this goal of helping the next generation reach their full potential,” David Bezzant, senior director of the Public Sector at T-Mobile, said in a statement. “Atlanta Public Schools is going all-out for their students with an incredible suite of tools and resources available on devices through their Digital Bridge program – a best-in-class execution of what the T-Mobile EmpowerED program can truly offer.”
The kick-off event will start the distribution process of approximately 6,000 devices to middle school students across all Atlanta Public Schools. The event included laptop demos, motivational speakers and fun and games for the students.