Verizon Innovative Learning offers students opportunity through technology

By: Ayana Byrd

Las Vegas’ Mater Academy East is one of 246 schools joining Cohort 8 of the Citizen Verizon education initiative for the 2021-2022 school year

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Eighth grade science teacher GabrielaTorres and student Sophia C. experiment with magnets at the rollout event. Credit: Saeed Rahbaran

It was a heartening sight in the midst of a pandemic: on a hot evening in August, more than a thousand socially distanced parents and students stood in a line that wound out the door at Mater Academy of Nevada East Campus. Students anxiously waited to walk inside and pick up a tablet, a new learning tool provided to them because their school is now part of the Verizon Innovative Learning program.

As a member of Verizon Innovative Learning’s eighth cohort, Mater Academy East can maximize its ability to align technology with its educational goals. It is one of 246 new schools added to the program for the 2021-2022 school year, which brings the total number of Verizon Innovative Learning schools nationwide to 511. That means nearly 183,000 additional students are now directly benefiting from the program, which, working through its nonprofit partner Digital Promise, provides free technology, internet access, next-gen curricula and professional development to under-resourced schools so that students can gain the skills they need to succeed in a digital world. It’s part of Citizen Verizon, the company’s responsible business plan to move the world forward for all.

Principal Fairless directs families to stations in the school’s multipurpose room. Credit: Saeed Rahbaran

By the end of the night, devices had been distributed to the school’s 415 middle schoolers. Beyond picking up devices, students were also able to learn more about Mater Academy’s newly launched STEM initiative. Educators staffed tables with materials that explain what it means to be a part of Verizon Innovative Learning and how each student could make use of their new devices. Armed with the knowledge of how their new tech would be put to use, students then signed up for the courses that sounded most interesting.

“The event was a big deal,” says Mater Academy East principal Renee Fairless. “It was the sort of thing where the whole family was excited. It’s not often in your life somebody hands you a tablet and you get to walk out the door with it.”

Principal Renee Fairless and Verizon Innovative Learning coach Olga Storla address the school community during the device rollout. Credit: Saeed Rahbaran

Verizon Innovative Learning coach Olga Storla is excited about the doors the program will open. “Our students will have the same opportunities as other kids, giving them equitable opportunities for a successful future,” says Storla. “Some students will discover that a career in technology is their passion. And access to the internet at home will help all our students stay on track and stay connected.”

Using technology to bring together the Mater Academy East community is a longstanding practice at the school. “We set up these classrooms of the future. I’m doing everything I can to bring knowledge to students in a way that is engaging, stimulating, visual, all of those things that I think that this generation demands in education and in their everyday life,” says Fairless.

Tech team members Ashden Parker and Devyn Beat help with device distribution. Credit: Saeed Rahbaran

As exciting as the device rollout was, it pales in comparison to what students can now do with their new resources. As Ryan Carter, a sixth grader and member of the school’s tech team, is happy that the devices will allow students to do assignments anywhere, from their parent’s car to the backyard. “If you have work due, you can always finish it, even somewhere that doesn’t have internet. You can always work,” he says.

And Mater Academy East’s teachers are excitedly working on fun ways to incorporate the technology into their lesson, with plans for everything from science projects to a culinary program.

“As a STEM teacher, having these tablets to use is a dream come true,” says eighth grade science teacher Gabriela Torres. “There are numerous ways that I can have my students utilize this tool, including completing scientific simulations, building systems and doing virtual tours of museums. Every year our students create a science fair project that involves an intense amount of research. Having 24/7 access to the internet will allow them to continue their scientific discoveries at home.”

Media specialist Dairren Gibson demonstrates an app on one of Mater Academy East’s new devices. Credit: Saeed Rahbaran

And the benefits of being a Verizon Innovative Learning school extend beyond exploring current coursework. The partnership also represents an opportunity to change lives long after students graduate. Says the school’s media specialist, Dairren Gibson: “Technology is an integral part of our society. Our students now have an opportunity to participate in cutting edge educational practices that are usually reserved for those with greater financial means. Having this access will give our students a competitive edge in life.”

Mom Angie Leyva signs paperwork to get daughter Allison Leyva ready for the new school year. Credit: Saeed Rahbaran

Parents were equally enthusiastic as they put on their masks and headed to the device rollout with their children. “When I found out my kids and all Mater students were obtaining a tablet through Verizon, I was more than excited,” says Angie Leyva, a parent who has three children attending Mater Academy East. “Having this type of technology gives them the confidence and power to succeed in school and do anything. As a mother, this is exactly what I want for them, and Mater Academy is always finding ways to get these kids ready for their future.”

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