Newington Public Schools (NPS) in Connecticut provides technology to all of their students, but the surrounding areas are not as fortunate. Students in neighboring school districts lack access to the same digital tools and digital literacy programs as NPS students. And NPS Director of Educational Technology Jay Salerno stepped in to improve digital equity.
Their story begins with a bus, and Kajeet had a chance to sit down with this education innovator to learn more.
Reaching Every Student, Everywhere
Salerno was recently selected as a 2017 Google Innovator, a 12-month professional development program for 36 educators across the globe. He wanted to focus his efforts on a critical, long-standing problem in education – digital equity and social justice.
But how could he, and NPS, bring equity through cutting-edge technology to surrounding communities?
When an old activity bus was decommissioned (pictured above), Salerno had his answer. His vision: gut and outfit the bus with technology, and drive to nearby communities that lack Wi-Fi or much technology to then share digital tools and resources with everyone. Communities include: lower-income neighborhoods, senior citizens, local public library patrons, and Project Choice students (a program that allows students to attend non-magnet district schools via a lottery application).
“NPS is cutting-edge in terms of technology,” said Salerno. “We wanted to spread the technology out more.”
How to Make a Technology Bus
This technology bus will not only serve communities near NPS, but provide a roadmap for schools across the nation to make their own technology buses. Salerno created a website to track his progress and status of the bus project.
Salerno designed the bus layout first, and then got to work. He gutted the bus entirely before re-carpeting and adding furniture that promotes an innovative learning environment. Then he worked with sponsors to outfit the bus. NPS hosted a soft launch to introduce the bus to the community in July, hiding the bus until then, which was not an easy feat said Salerno. It will officially roll out this month.
Photo Credit: Jay Salerno, NPS
Kajeet outfitted the bus with filtered Internet through our Kajeet SmartBus™ solution. Now students and community members will be able to use the multiple technology devices and access Wi-Fi when needed. SMART® Technologies is wrapping the bus and has provided technology for inside the bus as well.
The NPS bus will provide access to a variety of technologies, including:
- Wi-Fi hotspots
- Laptops, chromebooks, iPads, and tablets
- G Suite for Education training
- Google Expeditions
- Access to SMART Technologies
- Coding and programming
- 3D Printing
- And more to come.
The bus will be used directly in the school district across their seven schools, and will have different activities or themes planned every week.
“Techsperts” Take the Lead
What will really kick this technology bus into high gear is the team of “Techsperts” to help spread their own technology knowledge into the community. The “Techsperts” are student instructors throughout grades three through 12 in the NPS district.
This brings hands-on learning to a whole new level.
Students will help with digital learning activities on the bus including library tech nights, serving as an IT help desk, and leading lessons in technology. The Techsperts program begins in grade three, and provides students an opportunity to hone – and showcase – their digital skills. Here is the NPS program breakdown:
- Elementary School. Third grade students are dubbed the “TechSprouts”, but already help with coding and 3D printing at their age. The fourth grade students are official Techsperts and work with other children to help them with any technology needs.
- Middle School. These students run the IT help desk for their schools to help peers with any tech-related issues. They also help staff if needed.
- High School. Around 15 students provide the first line of defense for the school district’s IT department. These Techsperts have a help desk for teachers, and hope to have a physical help desk in the media center starting next year. However, the students do have parameters in order to not get in the way of the school’s IT department.
The Techsperts help power the technology bus, all while supporting Salerno’s mission to promote and bring digital equity and social justice to “every student, everywhere.”
“The possibilities are endless,” said Salerno. “It’s just going to keep growing.” To follow along with the NPS bus, follow Jay Salerno on Twitter.
Looking to start a technology bus of your own? Contact us and we can ensure your technology or makerspace bus is connected to safe, filtered Internet in no time.