Throngs of middle school students and their families crowded the gym at Reynolds Middle School on Wednesday night to claim their free iPad and home internet access, part of a $5.4 million gift from Verizon to the district.
Students in all three Reynolds district middle schools received the technology gifts while teachers also got iPads along with training on how to exploit the tablets for optimum classroom learning.
"I think it's amazing. I think it's great," said Basilio Angel Grano, an eighth grader at Reynolds Middle School, clutching his new iPad.
His sixth-grade brother Santiago chimed in, "it's cool. It will help with my development in learning."
The Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program provided the technology to more than 2,400 students attending Reynolds, H.B. Lee and Walt Morey middle schools. The program targets schools with many low-income households, in an effort to close "the homework gap," the company said.
"By giving students tablets and access, we help underserved students develop the tools and confidence they need to become tomorrow's innovators," Verizon said in an announcement about the program.
Seventh grader Nia Tate is among the happy recipients.
"This will give me access to more things. I'm happy to have this free computer," said Tate, who does not have internet access at home, noting language arts is her favorite subject.
After standing in line to pick up the iPads, the students and families moved to tables where teachers helped set up and activate the computers.
The Multnomah County Library also was at the event to show students the many online services the library offers free of charge. Library card holders can stream all kinds of movies and documentaries, check out e-books, play educational games and use research materials among many online services.
Seventh grader Sophie Crowder said getting the tablet computer was "pretty cool. I'm kind of excited to be able to sit on the couch and do my work."
Reynolds is the only district in Oregon that received the Verizon grant this year, an investment of $1.8 million per school by the communication technology giant.
"This gives technology access to all of our middle school students. That's important, especially in this digital era," said Reynolds Superintendent Danna Diaz, as she mingled in the crowd and chatted with parents and students. "What's most important is that they can access world-class materials online and have the tools to be innovative and creative.
"Students who have been marginalized and underrepresented will have equal digital access," she added.
Of the 11,000 students in the Reynolds School District, about 86%, or 9,459 students, live in households with income low enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. There are 61 languages spoken in the district and about half the students are learning English.
The program has found success with improving student performance. Of teachers who have participated in the program, 76% said Verizon Innovative Learning enhanced student engagement. Some 58% of teachers said students were more proficient in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines with the program.
Diaz expressed thanks to Verizon as well as Justin Birmingham, the district's grants and partner service coordinator; Chris Greenhalgh, the district's director of instructional technology; and Jeff Gibbs, director of technology services, for writing and winning the Verizon grant.
Students have to return the tablets at the end of the school year and at the end of eighth grade so they can go to new students every fall.
Verizon Communications Manager Paul Ulrich said Verizon funds this program "because we want to be good community partners."
The three Reynolds school are among 52 new Verizon Innovative Learning Schools for the 2019-20 school year, bringing the program to 152 middle schools nationwide.
Verizon said it has infused more than $400 million into schools, equipping more than a million students, and expects to help 2 million more kids by 2021.
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