Education

Once taboo, cellphones are free for thousands of Miami-Dade high school students

A new partnership between Sprint and Miami-Dade County Public Schools puts free wireless devices in the hands of every ninth grader. Thursday, 250 Samsung smart phones were distributed to students at Miami’s William H. Turner Technical Arts High School.
A new partnership between Sprint and Miami-Dade County Public Schools puts free wireless devices in the hands of every ninth grader. Thursday, 250 Samsung smart phones were distributed to students at Miami’s William H. Turner Technical Arts High School. Miami-Dade County Public Schools

Once considered a distraction and banned from classrooms, cellphones have become a key technological tool in education. So much so, thousands of cell phones are being given out free to Miami-Dade high school students to boost their studying and connect with teachers.

By the fall of 2021, Sprint aims to put 1 million wireless devices in the hands of incoming ninth graders nationwide to use for the four years they attend high school.

On Thursday, Sprint delivered an initial batch of 14,000 phones to Miami-Dade students, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.

Carvalho, along with Claudio Hidalgo, Sprint’s regional president for Florida, was on hand at William H. Turner Technical Arts High School in Miami for the kickoff as 250 Turner students took possession of their new Samsungs.

An additional 7,750 devices will be handed out annually for the next five school years at Miami-Dade public schools. There will be no cost to the students or their families who opt to receive the Samsung smart phones. The program is voluntary. If students already own a cell phone, they can still get the free additional wireless device.

In addition to the phones, students have free hotspot capability and unlimited domestic calls and texts, along with 3 GB of high speed LTE data per month on the Sprint network.

The goal of the 1Million Project is to bridge the digital divide that challenges students today, Carvalho said. “Seventy-five percent of students live below poverty levels and many don’t have access to connectivity. This program allows us to declare that every ninth grader can access educational resources.”

Carvalho gives an example. Instructors, using smart-board technology, can monitor students’ progress on class assignments and pop quizzes in real time if kids are equipped with internet-capable devices that connect wirelessly to teachers’ stations in the classroom.

“Rather than waiting a whole week, kids get immediate feedback. This has evolutionized the teaching process,” he said.

Sprint says that 70 percent of teachers in the United States assign homework where connectivity to the internet is a necessity.

This doesn’t mean kids will have a field day accessing whatever site they wish or can use the phones to tune out their teachers.

On the contrary. The touch-screen Samsungs have a filter that will block websites that could carry content and age-inappropriate material.

In 2012, Carvalho commissioned research into the way students informed themselves. Prior, cellphones in the classroom were often frowned upon. “That old mentality was actually not necessarily empowering students so we adopted a BYOD policy — Bring Your Own Device — which authorizes bringing devices to school. That is the new reality. They can’t use their devices in the classroom for something other than education,” Carvalho said.

Connectivity can also serve other purposes, the superintendent added.

“What was learned from Columbine and from Virginia Tech, when in times of emergency or in times of a school lockdown, students and employees who use cell phones have been proven to be valuable in informing administration and law enforcement about these emergencies,” Carvalho said.

“The digital revolution has come. This [1Million Program] gives schools some time to catch up to the new reality,” he said. “This investment by Sprint catapults us ahead through the empowerment of every ninth grader utilizing the technology.”

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen

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