May 12, 2020
Through a partnership with T-Mobile’s EmpowerED™ program, East Aurora School District 131 is helping ensure that all East Aurora students have an opportunity to learn at home by providing access to free, reliable high speed internet.
T-Mobile’s EmpowerED initiative is aimed at bridging the “homework gap” – the uneven playing field that exists when millions of low-income students are unable to access the digital tools necessary to succeed inside and outside of the classroom. The program provides students in need with an unlimited 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot — a mobile device that families may use at home to connect up to five devices via T-Mobile’s network.
High school students taking AP exams this month are the first to be offered the use of a hotspot. Hotspots will then be offered to families of students in grades 6 through 12 who do not have internet access at home.
The partnership with the EmpowerED 2.0 program comes at a much needed time, as the state’s stay-at-home order has students learning remotely for the remainder of the year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While a majority of students currently have internet access at home, many do not.
Beginning May 11, 744 students from East High will take a total of 1,279 AP exams, all completed online. This is the first year AP exams will be given exclusively online, with students receiving an “e-ticket” to log in and sit for the exam.
Kevin Marten, East High’s division chair for World Cultures and AP coordinator, believes the program to provide hotspots is much needed and will complement the fine work teachers have done this year.
“All year our teachers have done a great job of exposing our students to college-level material and giving them an opportunity to earn college credit,” said Marten. “Now, given our current pandemic situation, the hotspots will give them a critical tool they need to be even more successful on the exams.”
“We know that many students within our district lack reliable, consistent internet access,” said Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Norrell. “The partnership with T-Mobile immediately provides for our students’ needs, especially during the pandemic, so they can continue to connect to their teachers and to learning.”
Norrell also believes that providing hotspots has long-term implications on student success.
“What I love most about this program is that it ties so directly to multiple pillars, or guiding principles, of our strategic plan, including operational excellence, student achievement, and equity,” said Norrell. “This partnership utilizes resources that promotes operational excellence, efficiency, and fiscal accountability; it ensures the academic success of all students by closing the opportunity gap, and it helps create an equitable learning environment that addresses each student’s needs,” said Norrell.
“When students can access learning remotely, regardless of their situation, we level the playing field for East Aurora and help our kids compete with other students in today’s modern world,” said Norrell.
“Students and teachers across the country continue to adjust to a learning environment that has gone 100% virtual, and students without access to high-speed internet at home are now at an even higher risk of falling behind,” said Dr. Kiesha Taylor, National Education Administrator, T-Mobile. “T-Mobile believes every child deserves access to the tools they need to be successful and to keep up with homework. We can help provide those tools and that access, all while helping to bridge the digital divide for the whole family.”
Nayeli Ruiz, a senior Tomcat and member of the Class of 2020, is taking four AP exams, including AP Spanish, AP Biology, AP Government, and AP Stats. Ruiz was delighted to hear that her fellow Tomcats were being provided with the hotspots.
“For me I’m a little nervous about taking the AP tests,” said Ruiz. “But I’m happy that they are providing the hotspots to those of us who need them, because there are many students who don’t have these things, and it will help them to do better with remote learning.”
Yadira Araiza, an East High parent whose freshman son is taking an AP exam this month, was happy to learn about the program. “It feels good to know that the school is making sure our students’ education is continuing, and it makes me feel confident that they are giving students what they need.”
The EmpowerED 2.0 program was developed by T-Mobile, and offers a solution to the challenge many students and families face without high-speed internet in their home. Often times, and especially while students are learning remotely, a digital divide leaves some students without access to digital textbooks and other materials off-campus, causing them to fall behind their peers with online access.
Under the EmpowerED 2.0 program, District 131 received a generous discount, which essentially amounted to receiving the 3,400 hotspot devices for free. T-Mobile will provide service and support, discounted data plans, and content filtering to help prevent access to inappropriate content.
This press release was produced by East Aurora School District 131. The views expressed here are the author’s own.
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