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OPINION: Generous donation helps improve student achievement

The children in today’s classroom have never known a world without technology. They have grown up with the cutting-edge inventions that amazed their parents and grandparents when they were first introduced.

Even their earliest days in the world were impacted by technology for many of them, as their mothers used baby monitors to keep a watchful eye and ear on them as they slept. Think of how many children you know were able to surf the Internet even before they started kindergarten.

Children are so comfortable with technology — often more comfortable than the adults in the room — that it makes a great tool for instruction. Children feel just as at home with a laptop as they do with a book in their lap. When one of their parents gets on the Internet today, it may seem incredibly fast because she remembers how slow dial-up access was. Some of their grandparents may not even access the Internet at all. What seems lightning-fast to an adult is just a normal speed to a child who has known nothing but broadband.

Recognizing this, the AT&T Foundation, the philanthropy arm of AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) has made an extremely generous donation to support an innovative “Early Educators” program, which will provide 21st century instructional interventions in tutorial settings for Delta students. The AT&T Foundation has awarded the Mississippi Center for Education Innovation a $475,000 grant, which will be distributed to schools in the Delta through a competitive grant process.

This grant helps us to focus on two critical issues in Mississippi’s classrooms today: improving student achievement and improving the quantity and quality of teachers. The schools that receive the grants will provide instructional interventions for younger students using iPods and instructional podcasts.

Through this program, students will receive one-on-one instruction, additional time on task and the opportunity to use technology to learn concepts and acquire skills.
The program is also designed to create interest in the teaching profession among students in junior and senior high school. The older students will have the opportunity to serve as tutors for the younger students, giving them both a taste of the teaching profession and the satisfaction that comes from knowing that you have made a difference in the life of a child. In addition, Colleges of Teacher Education at Mississippi’s universities will be offered the opportunity to participate in the “Early Educators” program by incorporating podcasting in the field experiences that are required of third and fourth year education majors. This will expose the future teachers to the state curriculum and the opportunity to use engaging technology in their classroom teaching.

Technology is a great way of getting and keeping students engaged. Unfortunately, not all students have equal access to technology. The generous donation made by the AT&T Foundation will go a long way in equalizing opportunities for all students and demonstrates the kind of difference corporate citizens can make in our schools.

Mississippi schools are working very hard to keep students on the bus, but superintendents, principals and teachers cannot do it alone. I am extremely grateful to the AT&T Foundation and the Mississippi Center for Education Innovation for developing and funding this exciting program.

It will make a tremendous difference in the lives of thousands of children, helping many to discover new concepts and others to discover the joy of teaching. Either discovery represents priceless milestones in helping children become the adults they were meant to become and reach their full potential.

Dr. Hank Bounds is Mississippi’s state superintendent of education.

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