During a trip to the remote 3,000-person village of Kotzebue, Alaska early this month, President Barack Obama chose to highlight the need for access to technology for students. The President noted that unfortunately, fewer than 40% of America's schools are able to effectively access the Internet and use technology tools as part of their teaching. Ultimately, improving connectivity will help transform the classroom experience for all students, regardless of family income. And for children without Internet access at home, making it available at school means leveling the playing field and providing opportunity for a much broader group of students.
My own school district in New Rochelle, New York is already working to narrow the digital divide. We began in the spring by installing four outdoor wireless Wi-Fi access points at one of our elementary schools, where more than 80% of children receive free or reduced lunch, to enable community access in the surrounding neighborhood. Over the next three years, all eleven of our schools will be equipped to provide wireless, filtered Wi-Fi access to our students within a half mile of each school. Our primary goal is to continue and further extend our support for teaching college and career readiness skills in technology, skills that will enable our students to succeed in whatever post-secondary pursuits they may have.
Another powerful example of bringing technology to students - and then effectively using it in the classroom - is the specific, innovative educational program in high school English teacher Anthony Stirpe's film class, where he uses mobile filmmaking to transform the way he teaches and his students learn. Specifically, Stirpe gives his students an assignment to pick a poem, which they use as a basis to write a film script. Once they develop scripts to make a short film, the assignment takes a decidedly unexpected turn. Stirpe has thrown out traditional cameras and turned to the future of filmmaking, with students shooting, editing and finalizing their films using only an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad.
Apple (and other companies like the premium app development company Cinegenix), has already acknowledged and provided support to the program for its unique approach to teaching and learning, one that has inspired Stirpe's students. As a result of their mobile filmmaking work, many of the students have rediscovered a strong desire to learn and a passion for writing. Stirpe summed it up this way: "I feel very fortunate that our district has been so supportive with this new film initiative, and I see this course as more than just a film course. It has changed the way students read and write. The fact that they walk away from my class knowing they carry around a device with the power to share their stories and their voices is part of what makes New Rochelle such a special place."
It is our responsibility as educational leaders to support just this kind of creative classroom assignment. None of us is required to know everything about the numerous technology resources we might use in education, but we must be willing to support teaching professionals in their efforts to embark on exceptional new academic efforts that truly integrate technology into American classrooms. As we endeavor to erase the digital divide among our students and in our communities, we must all work to reinforce ways to harness the powerful resources for learning that exist in the increasingly technology-rich world.