At the end of the last school year, the school district asked 3,400 students about their availability to access the internet away from school. Approximately 700 students responded that they did not have a smartphone or internet access at home. But not everyone responded, so the number could be higher.
Mobile carrier Sprint has recognized that students who have access to technology perform better academically, particularly in mathematics. John Morris, Secondary Math Specialist, presented the School Board information about an opportunity to bring internet access to more students.
Nationwide, the company is investing in 1 million students. Sprint will provide Hernando County high school students up to 4,500 smartphones and internet access over the next five years. Beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, 1,700 smartphones will be distributed, according to income eligibility and coverage area guidelines. The figure is approximately 40% of those high school students who already qualify for free or reduced lunch. For following years, only incoming freshmen who qualify will be issued phones.
Though the project does state that some students could receive free tablets or laptops, there were not enough of those devices available for Hernando County. Those who receive the phones will have them throughout their high school years. The company will only distribute the smartphones for five years, but they will continue providing service until the students have completed the four years of high school – a total of eight years of internet service.
Included with the device is 3GB of high speed LTE internet service per month. When the 3GB of data are used, the student will have access to additional unlimited data, but at the 2G speed. However, the student or his/her family may purchase additional data for $5. While at home, the phones also act as a mobile hotspot, enabling the student to provide internet access for other devices, such as a tablet, at home.
Discussions about internet use includes safety for the minors who access websites. The 1 Million Project will follow federal guidelines of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) by using a filter to prevent students from opening inappropriate content on adult websites regardless of where they use the device, even on their home networks. The filter cannot be removed from the device.
As a former secondary math instructor, Morris stated that this project will be helpful to the high school teachers. The district uses Math Nation, with resources and homework that are exclusively online. New Social Studies textbooks have supplemental online content.
Sprint’s 1 Million Project is generous. Aside from the smartphones, which are approximately $100 each, the cost of the $40/month of free internet service for the eight years totals $6.4 million. In return, the district will provide quarterly statistics on GPAs and graduation rates. This information will be non-identifiable, and general in nature.
Eligibility will be determined during the first week of school by means of a survey. For students who have changed circumstances during the year, the school has discretion to add them to the program. According to Sprint, 95% of those who receive the phones have answered the survey honestly. Publicity photos will be taken during the days the company distributes and activates the smartphones.
Service continues during the summer months as well. Students who graduate may keep the phones and are offered a reduced plan to remain a Sprint customer. Some surplus phones will be provided to the district as backup and the phones will have a one-year warranty. Board chair Beth Narverud thanked Morris for working on the project with Sprint as it will benefit not only the students, but the parents as well.