ASU Preparatory Academy receives $2.9 million technology grant

ASU Preparatory Academy received a $2.9 million technology grant aimed at giving their students access to
portable computers and tablets so they can use the Internet at home. (Alexis Macklin/DD)

ASU Preparatory Academy students could walk home with a portable computer or tablet soon due to a $2.9 million grant the school was awarded in December from the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation Program.

Out of more than 600 applicants, only 25 schools were chosen to receive the grant, according to the Department of Education. ASU Prep was the only Arizona K-12 school to receive an award.

The school was offered the award in November pending its ability to match the dollar amount, said Beatriz Rendon, CEO of ASU Prep. The school did so and the grant was officially received in December. The grant will be distributed over five years.

With the new funds, ASU Prep hopes to provide all students with access to portable technology, such as laptops or tablets, that they can take home and share with their families, Rendon said.

ASU Prep science teacher Jeni McClue said half of her students have access to the Internet and computer technology at home, but the other half only have access at school or the public library.

“(Portable devices) give my students another chance to experience the material after class,” McClue said.

Students are able to read textbooks online or practice online simulations and labs, she said. Their parents can also use the devices to see their child’s progress and grades, as well as learn techniques to help their children learn.

Though many lower income families do not have laptops or tablets, Rendon said, many have smart phones. The school is also looking into using the grant to develop an app that will update parents on their child’s progress and help them stay connected with the school.

The grant will also give teachers greater access to technology, which will help their professional development, McClue said.

Teachers are able to share informational talks or articles with each other at any time during the school day, whereas previously they could only share information during staff meetings, McClue said.

Inside the classroom, teachers will also be given technology that allows them to track students’ progress as they work, Rendon said. Teachers can use the information gathered to develop individualized teaching strategies.

“As students are ready to take on a higher level content, we need to be ready to supply them with those courses,” Rendon said, noting that students can tackle advanced classes regardless of their age or grade level.

Steven Zylstra, president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council, said Arizona public charter school Carpe Diem-Yuma has a similar technique of monitoring students’ progress, with successful results.

Arizona Technology Council is a trade organization in Arizona that promotes teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics in schools. Zylstra said the council’s members are looking for a workforce with those skills.

He said it is good that ASU Prep is investing in technology within the classroom, especially in Arizona, where much of the rural population does not have access to broadband Internet access.

“Technology can exponentially increase a student’s ability to learn,” Zylstra said. “Technology is very important to effective education.”

McClue also said technology is important in education, but it needs to be used properly.

“Technology is never the one answer to student learning,” McClue said. “Technology can help student learning in a lot of ways.”

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