Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Whirling around in the Harris Middle School gym, students stared at tablet screens, using an application that took them to college campuses across the country via a virtual 360-degree tour.
"They're spinning around in circles seeing Harvard's college campus, and they don't have to drive there or book a flight," Harris teacher Jeannette Aguilar said.
On Friday, San Antonio Independent School District students and educators from four middle schools received tablet devices and 4G wireless plans for round-the-clock internet access at home through a partnership with nonprofit Digital Promise, which focuses on closing the digital learning gap, and Verizon Innovative Learning, a Verizon initiative that provides free technology and internet access to students.
The schools – Harris, Longfellow, Rhodes, and Whittier middle schools – are four of just 100 schools in this program nationwide. Each schools' student body and teachers received a tablet and a two-year Verizon Wireless 4G LTE data plan. Students can take tablets home and use them in classrooms for lessons and homework.
In total, 3,100 students and 190 teachers are included in the $7.2 million program.
Harris teachers and administrators told the Rivard Report that the program will allow the school to expand their use of technology in the classroom. Teachers plan on using the tablets with applications, videos, virtual tours, and primary documents to supplement lessons.
Having the data plan also enables students who previously didn't have access to internet at home to complete assignments and use technology away from school. Students often used smart phones to work on homework if they didn't have Wi-Fi.
"When they are doing their work, you see kids struggling to use a telephone [on homework]," Harris Principal Carol Velazquez said. "What they were doing was a real challenge."
About 9.4 percent of San Antonio homes have a computer but lack internet access, and 6.6 percent of homes don't have a computer, according to 2016 census data.
With the devices, students will be able to share the technology with their parents and siblings and spread the impact of connectivity to their family, Velazquez said.
"I expect it to make a change in whole households," Velazquez said.
Each school in the program also will be given a full-time technology coach from Digital Promise over the next two years, so that students and teachers will understand how most effectively to use their new tablets.