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Serving Irving, Coppell and Grand Prairie

Verizon gives free iPads to middle school students

Verizon helped to bridge the digital divide by providing new iPads to Irving ISD middle schoolers on Friday, Oct. 6.

Every student and staff member at Austin, Bowie, Houston, Lamar and Crockett Middle Schools received a brand new 4G LTE-enabled iPad. In addition, students and teachers also received a 5 GB monthly data plan for two years, allowing for 24/7 Internet access both in the classroom and at home. In total, over 5,500 iPads were distributed across five campuses.

Patricia Alvarado, Irving ISD’s Director of Instructional Technology, discussed how the generous event came to be.

“In February, we were awarded a grant from Verizon at the value of $8 million to kick off a one-to-one initiative,” Alvarado said. “[Verizon is] giving us an iPad for every staff member and every student in the building at these five middle schools and has provided training from different technology professionals that come in to teach the teachers how to use technology to leverage learning. It’s been a fantastic, amazing, experience. We’ve really been looking forward to it.”

The event is part of the Verizon Innovative Learning initiative, which helps bridge the gap between underprivileged children and the access to technology. Jeannine Brew, Verizon External Communications Manager, said the purpose of the initiative is not only to help these kids, but to also get them interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers at an early age.

“We found that students, particularly those in underserved communities, weren’t getting the access to the tools they needed to be successful in the fields of STEM,” Brew said. “Verizon Innovative Learning addresses that through a number of education programs. The program we have here today at Austin Middle School is one of those programs.”

Brew said middle school in particular is an important time for children as they begin to figure out the career path they want to pursue after they graduate.

“Middle school is a very, very critical age for students,” Brew said. “It is the age by which they need to learn everything they need to know in order to select those careers in the future. Even though they won’t necessarily be selecting their career path today, by exposing them to these STEM careers and putting an emphasis on technology, they are more likely to select these types of fields in the future and more likely to continue that interest.”

To celebrate the initiative, Austin Middle School also held an interactive robotics showcase. Students had the opportunity to play with “Smart” connected soccer balls that provided them with instant feedback on the power, spin, and trajectory of their kicks. Students could also try coding with the Sphero SPRK+ robots, using their phones to program the robots to either knock over a set of pins, or guide them through a maze.

But even before the event began, some of the students at Austin Middle School were putting their new iPads to good use. Sebastian Rico, a 6th grader at Austin, is using his iPad to learn a new language: Japanese.

“It’s giving me examples, and it’s really helpful,” Rico said. “It’s like having your own teacher there helping you, teaching you, and talking to you.”

Meanwhile, Emily Gallegos, an 8th grader at Austin, and her classmates made a set of videos with the iMovie app instructing other students on how to use their new iPads.

“We make videos, and then we learn how to cut things out and re-edit them,” Gallegos said. “It’s been great. It’s been a lot easier and a lot more productive [using the iPads].”

Irving ISD’s Patricia Alvarado hopes these new iPads will inspire the kids to not only create digital content, but also to thrive and succeed in an ever-competitive technology driven world.

“[These kids] will have an opportunity to create,” Alvarado said. “They’ll have an opportunity to explore. They’ll have the opportunity to really have learning on demand. If they are, at 9 o’clock at night, wanting to work on a homework assignment, wanting to create a movie, wanting to add to their digital portfolio, now they can, because they have that access. There are no restrictions.”