#weneedmore: Empowering a Harlem school through technology

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Ahkiyrah Ramkisoon

All photos: Michael J. Le Brecht II

On a chilly day last October, at Harlem’s P.S. 171, there was an excited buzz inside the school assembly hall. Principal Dimitres Pantelidis announced to an attentive room of middle schoolers, their parents and guardians, that Verizon was about to give the entire sixth, seventh and eighth grades — about 330 students in all — free tablets with a two-year data plan. While the kids were clearly thrilled about the new technology, Device Distribution Day was also the beginning of a huge educational opportunity. The New York City school had been chosen to be part of Verizon Innovative Learning, the education initiative of the Verizon Foundation, which, in partnership with the non-profit Digital Promise, introduces cutting edge learning techniques to inspire students to study more effectively and get excited about pursuing careers in STEM. The program works across U.S. middle schools to provide teachers and students with access to technology and empowers them to be content creators, problem-solvers, and responsible consumers of digital media.

Many of the P.S. 171 students don’t have access to broadband Internet outside of school. With the help of coaches from Digital Promise, the school’s teachers planned to integrate the tablets into the curriculum. Students could take the tablets home to use as research tools, digital notebooks and ‘round-the-clock tutors.

How has Verizon Innovative Learning impacted the school? Six months later, P.S. 171 reports that students are already participating more in class, finishing homework and improving their test scores. But it’s not just the access that’s critical; it takes a village to achieve this success. Efforts from the school administrators, teachers, students and city officials are what make this program dynamic. We spoke with five people impacted by the Verizon program in Harlem and asked them how it has benefited the students at P.S. 171, changed the way they learn and enhanced their vision for the future.

Ahkiyrah Ramkisoon

Ahkiyrah Ramkisoon, eighth grade student, P.S. 171

“I like that the program and tablet keep learning fun. If you get information on a piece of paper, you can easily lose it, but with this you need to take care of it, and my tablet is always there for me to learn from. When I’m not able to understand a math topic in the classroom with my teacher, I can go on the app IXL to learn about things like graphing. After working with it, I’ll understand the subject better and can come to school and share information with other kids. We also read articles at home about science and business, and discuss the causes and effects of each topic in class. Since we started the program, our social studies and science teachers send us exercises and tests to take on our tablets. Having the tablet means I’m able to learn at home instead of waiting to do my schoolwork.”

Shaakiyrah Ramkisoon, Ahkiyrah’s mom

“I thought it was brilliant that Verizon came up with the idea to give the kids the tablets. Since Ahkiyrah started working with the program, she’s improved a lot with reading and math. She was always good with math, but now she’s great. Her grades are better. She’s improved about 40 percent. She also puts her sentences together better than she did before. The tablet makes her want to spend more time with schoolwork when she’s at home. She doesn’t complain about studying. She just does it on her own. The program and tablet worked out great for her ability to read and problem solve.”

Jonathan Pollino

Jonathan Pollino, Ahkiyrah’s teacher at P.S. 171

“We’ve been a technology-forward school for some time, but since the start of the program there’s been a major change in student access. In class, the tablets become an interactive educational tool so we can get full-on engagement. At home, kids have a place to turn to if they need extra support. Students can have conversations with their classmates about homework through the apps. We’ve also seen an improvement in homework completion. We now see students who are excited and motivated.

As part of the program, I’ve been to two conferences to meet with other teachers from different schools who are integrating technology into their classrooms. I’ve realized how important it is move away from the idea that technology has to just be in a lab. We need to make it more like oxygen, integrating it into our daily lives.”

Dimitres Pantelidis

Dimitres Pantelidis, Principal at P.S. 171

“This program takes student learning to another level. We use a lot of software at our school, but before we started the program, we only used it in the classroom. It’s amazing – now I’ll see the kids waiting to be picked up after school, and they’re working on the tablet, utilizing every second. It really enhances the learning for our kids. Teachers record videos for their students to watch if they’re running into problems. And that video is a much more meaningful way of learning. The students have access to up to 80,000 books on their interests at their reading level. They can do some big research.

In a recent math class, the students took the tablets to a store and videotaped the pricing to show how seventh-grade mathematics is applicable to the real world. Music and Spanish classes also use them for video and audio recording. These are things I see this year that I haven’t seen in previous years. We had laptops before. Now we’re taking a more enhanced and refined approach. Are the students advancing academically with the use of technology? Absolutely. With the use of this technology, it definitely brings things up a level for supporting our kids of all different abilities.”

Gale Brewer

Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President

“I was so glad to help inaugurate P.S. 171's new program and launch those kids into a new technological era at their school. We know the world that our kids are graduating into is utterly technology-driven — and their childhoods have been technology-driven, too. In New York City, the technology sector has grown by an estimated 18 percent over the past 10 years. But curriculums lag behind, and not just due to lack of hardware and connectivity. Educators have to compete with so much in the culture — social media, sophisticated apps, and increasing gamification — and schools must fight to just stay even with the curve, let alone get ahead of the curve.”

There are over 4 million available jobs in science and technology. However, millions of kids can’t compete for them because they lack access to technology and tech education—leaving too many kids behind.

We need more kids to see the world of possibilities waiting for them. That’s why Verizon is giving free technology, free access, and immersive, hands-on learning to kids in need.

Learn more about the Verizon Innovative Learning commitment to digitizing schools

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