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UCPS and Sprint team up to break down digital barriers for students

Sprint Project Union County Public Schools (UCPS) students practically have the world at their fingertips. With the simple stroke of a key, they can learn about virtually any subject, complete their classroom assignments and collaborate with each other on projects in real time.

But what happens when that crucial access to technology disappears as soon as the students leave their school? When they’re unable to access the essential digital tools they need to succeed because of a lack of connectivity at home?

On Aug. 30, UCPS and Sprint answered that question.

At a press conference held at Forest Hills High, UCPS and Sprint announced their plans to help minimize the digital divide in Union County through Sprint’s 1Million Project Foundation. As part of this partnership, more than 300 Forest Hills High students who previously did not have reliable internet connectivity at home received a free hotspot device as well as 3GB of high-speed LTE data per month for up to four years while they are in high school. Additionally, every device has a Free Children’s Internet Protection Act compliant content filter to block adult content and malware.

This is the first time UCPS students have benefited from the 1Million Project Foundation’s program, and the devices were provided to Forest Hills High students at no charge to their families.

“We have a lot of students who have laptops because we as a school system have put that resource in their hands and have supported the investment in that technology. But when they leave to go home, they may not be able to access the internet because of either limited wireless access or none at all,” said UCPS Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan. “I want to thank the 1Million Project Foundation for investing in Forest Hills, for partnering with this great school system and for being here today. Your presence shows that no matter the town, city or situation, you all as a company are here to invest.”

Sitting in the Forest Hills High media center, senior Diamond Hamilton said having this new access to technology is a game changer as it will ultimately allow her to easily complete her classwork at home.

“We have a lot of assignments that require us to have internet access and students as a whole have more options to take classes online now. But without internet access, that could be very difficult because I would only have the amount of time given to me during the school day to complete assignments,” she said. “Having reliable internet access allows me to turn in better quality work than if I was rushing to turn it in because I could only complete my work at school.”

Research has shown that students who cannot connect when they leave school are at a disadvantage, and their chances of staying on track in school are greatly limited. Today’s learning environment requires 24/7 internet access in order to study, learn explore and complete school work from home.

Sprint Project 3 That, said 1Million Project President Doug Michelman, should not be a privilege only afforded to certain students.

“Learning is done online, homework is assigned online – everything is online. To be cut off from the internet at home while others are not cut off is unacceptable in this country. Everything we do is based on the belief that every student deserves equal opportunity to be the best,” he said, while also praising the school district’s passion for providing equitable internet access for all students. “The devices are a gift for the students to use wisely. It’s not a solution, but it creates the opportunity for students to do the best they can because we want them to be the best they can.”

When the students received their devices, many of them talked excitedly to each other and commented on how reliable internet access would help them tremendously with their school work.

Standing in line, some of the students talked about how they’ve heard stories of classmates who would have to scour places in their community to find reliable access to the internet just to complete their homework assignments. Others talked about how they often had to work furiously during the school day to complete projects that they knew they wouldn’t be able to work on at home.

Before receiving his device, Forest Hills High senior Joshua Caps recalled spending many late nights trying to complete his classwork only relying on his phone’s weak signal. Now, he’s looking forward to having a tool that will not only set him up for success now but also in the future.

“I know so many people who have fallen behind in classes because they don’t have Wi-Fi at home. When they do catch up, they don’t even have a full understanding of what they’re learning,” he said. “This is going to help me a lot now with my classes and even in the future as I apply for scholarships and complete college applications. It’s completely going to improve my entire lifestyle now and in the future.”

After the press conference, Forest Hills High Principal Dr. Kevin Plue said the combination of demographics in the Forest Hills community combined with its geographic location in the rural part of county makes this program a game changer for a lot of students.

“The access to digital resources will make their life easier. Anxiety and stress get in the way of optimum learning and we want to take that away as best as we can,” he said. “Hopefully our students will see that there are a lot of people supporting them and there is no reason at all why you can’t do anything you want to do.”