Students at the Dr. William H. Horton Elementary School in Newark have gained access to technologies that will help them become problem solvers with the ribbon cutting of the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab, the first of its kind in the state.
Located in what was formerly library space at the 796-student school, the lab is a hands-on education workspace complete with emerging technologies such as augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), coding, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence.
The lab is one of 80 such facilities across the country that are part of Verizon’s Innovative Learning school program, which the communications giant started in 2012 to foster digital inclusion for under-resourced students at K-12 schools. To date, the program is operating at 500 schools across the country. According to Alex Servello, director of corporate social responsibility at Verizon, the program has benefitted 1.3 million students with the goal of reaching 10 million by 2030.
While the regular Innovative Learning program offers students home internet access and devices such as iPads and Chromebooks, as well as professional development for teachers, Servello says the labs “take things to the next level.”
“We are giving students a space where they can truly be creative. We are giving them a design curriculum, built in partnership with Arizona State University, where students will be tasked with using ‘design thinking’ to find a solution for a community-based issue,” Servello said.
At other schools with labs, Servello explained that students have created personal protective equipment (PPE) via 3D printers and have designed adaptive technologies for students with disabilities.
“It is going to be interesting to come back here and see what community issues students in Newark would like to solve,” Servello added.
Educators are also provided with professional development regarding the program, Servello said. “We could just bring the devices to students and call it a day, but in order to have sustainable digital inclusion, we need to get teachers involved. They learn how to integrate technology into the classroom and take it to the students.”
Besides the University of Arizona, Verizon has partnered with Heart of America, a nonprofit organization that is serving as project manager for Verizon Innovative Learning Labs across the country. “We focus on transforming spaces, mostly in schools, but also at community centers across the country, into modern learning environments so that communities can grow and thrive,” said Alison Thurner, senior project manager for Heart of America.
According to Horton School Principal Hamlet Marte, “Every single grade will be using the lab. We are excited that our students will be designing their own technology-driven future because of it. They will have the ability to take their creativity and curiosity to discover the unknown. … We can’t wait to see them do that.”
Mark Bocchieri, who handles state and local government affairs for Verizon, commented, “The lab will provide students the opportunity to become lifelong learners, creators and problem solvers. It will be a transformational learning experience for them.”
According to Chip Hallock, president and CEO of the Newark Regional Business Partnership (NRBP), “We clearly heard sincere appreciation for Verizon’s investment from school leaders, but even louder was the enthusiasm from the students about getting their minds and hands on state-of-the-art technology. This is a great example of what equitable opportunity in education and future careers looks like.”
Verizon and its partners plan to open another Innovative Learning Lab at Newark’s Hawkins Street School. To date, there are 12 schools in New Jersey participating in the Verizon Innovative Learning program, reaching more than 6,000 students and 700 educators.
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