Every Wednesday during the school year, Charles Gaines and several of his classmates at Calvin Coolidge High School in Washington, D.C. have skipped class and made a beeline for the school parking lot, all under the watchful eyes of their principal, teachers and advisors. While it sounds suspicious, any question that these students were up to something less than “academic” was immediately cast aside, as they eagerly piled into a school bus. But unlike the nearly 500,000 yellow school busses in this country, this bus has bold graphics on the outside showing enthusiastic students using wireless tablets and smartphones to reflect what actually goes on inside. The retrofitted bus is equipped with its own generator, air-conditioner, 4G LTE connectivity, onboard tutors and individual workstations with Samsung Tabs. “We’ve dubbed it our own ‘Magic School Bus,’” says Melanie Agnew, Coolidge’s Instructional Coach. Agnew is referring to the Verizon Wireless Mobile Learning Lab, one of a variety of educational programs Verizon is conducting nationwide and at eight public high schools in the Greater Washington, DC/Baltimore area to deploy technology to underserved communities to help students become 21st century learners. Eager students like Gaines, who will attend Lincoln University this fall, worked on the bus with tutors from nearby Howard University, writing essays and completing college and scholarship applications on wireless tablets. Consistent access to the 4G LTE tablets and accompanying apps, not only increased student enthusiasm but also increased college acceptance rates at some participating schools, according to Dr. Barney Wilson, principal at Reginald Lewis High School in Baltimore.“The difference in being able to establish our college-going culture was the bus,” said Wilson.
Since the Mobile Learning Lab started regular visits to the school, Wilson estimates tutoring help from Morgan State University via the 4G tablets elevated SAT scores by 100 points and increased enthusiasm tremendously.
Like several schools throughout the area, both Reginald Lewis and Coolidge have also partnered with Verizon Wireless to bring tablets into the classroom. Bernadette Desario, who teaches AP U.S. History at Coolidge, says without the tablets, students interact with a piece of paper but the tablets provide a way to collaborate with multiple sources, opening a world of opportunity.
The Mobile Learning Lab project will continue this fall.