Tech leaders emerge from under-resourced schools thanks to this program

Danielle Page, for Verizon
Published 9:12 a.m. ET Oct. 1, 2020


See the Verizon Innovative Learning program featured as part of USA TODAY Network’s The Storytellers Project.


Here’s how one company is empowering students through technology.

James Allrich, principal at Argyle Magnet Middle School in Silver Spring, Maryland, has always had a reputation for being the go-to tech guy.

“For me, technology is just one of those things that’s always been easy for me — I view it as a tool to make life and things we do a lot easier,” he said.

This school program supports digital learning and inclusion. (Photo: Getty Images)

So when the opportunity to become part of the Verizon Innovative Learning program, which provides technology-based STEM curriculums — focused on science, technology, engineering and math — and gives each student and teacher a device and monthly data plan, Allrich knew the potential it had not only to make things easier for students but also to transform the way students were able to learn. 

“Kids that didn’t have access to the internet at home would stay late to use our computer lab, so when we got the iPads last year, it really changed how we used the technology in the building,” Allrich said. “One thing Verizon did that was so beneficial was that every class and every teacher had a learning management system where students could see the lesson and homework posted.”

That became especially crucial when the school shifted to distance learning in March.

Providing access to tech-based learning

The Verizon Innovative Learning program has been bridging the digital divide since 2012, providing access to technology as part of the company’s Citizen Verizon plan. This framework for economic, environmental and social advancement focuses on digital inclusion, climate protection and human prosperity.

For Beatriz Llano-Scherker, a Verizon Innovative Learning coach who’s also been an educator for more than 37 years, becoming part of the program couldn’t have happened at a better time for Hammocks Middle School in Miami.

“The fact that children had the devices and had been taking them home and using them in the classroom for almost a full year when the pandemic hit gave teachers and students an incredible advantage when we went to distance learning,” she said.

Technology-based learning opens doors for students. (Photo: Getty Images)

As a Verizon Innovative Learning coach, Llano-Scherker works closely with the school’s associate director of professional learning for ongoing training.

“We do coach assignments designed to sharpen our technology and coaching skills, which lead toward technology credentials,” she said. “We speak each week and plan professional development sessions, as well as train coaches on the ways of maintaining connectivity and assuring continuous use of technology to enhance teaching and learning.”

Verizon’s approach to teacher training has been especially beneficial for Allrich and his staff.

“That training is really priceless: putting that technology in staff hands and letting them explore,” he said. “For some of us, it was a learning curve, so we did training over the summer and taught best uses for how to manage this new device that students now have all the time.”

Having the capabilities and training to enhance learning through technology has been a game changer for student projects and curriculums.

“Once the technology was pervasive, teachers were able to teach and engage students differently,” Allrich said. “Having a kid say, ‘I’m not interested in writing a paper, but I’m interested in putting together a video game that gets at this particular point’ — that’s really pushed our students and teachers to grow.”

“In one science class, students were doing different organs of the body, using their iPads to scan a corresponding code that would populate a three-dimensional heart valve pumping or a digestive system,” Llano-Scherker said. “I remember standing there thinking, ‘This is so much better than a picture in a textbook.’”

Digital inclusion for parents

Allrich reports that parent involvement has increased exponentially, thanks to access to technology provided by the Verizon Innovative Learning program — something he didn’t initially anticipate.

“As part of the device deployment, we had to bring every parent in to do a workshop,” he said. “Parents became engaged in a different way than they had before. We started doing virtual PTSA meetings and saw participation increase, since parents were able to use these devices to connect.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Allrich and his staff were able to connect with parents through use of the devices as well.

“We went from having 30 people in our virtual meetings to 50, 60, 70,” he said. “We then had two separate meetings — one for English speakers, one for Spanish speakers — and ended up having between 100 to 130 parents or families engaged. That really changed the mindsets of teachers that technology is not just for the tech classes.”

For more information about the Verizon Innovative Learning program, click here.

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.

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