With New Tech in Hand, At-Risk Students Dream Big
By Patrick Rogers
Brianna has big dreams about a career as an artist, but she didn’t always think that way.
Two years ago, the now 18-year-old high school senior from Queens, N.Y., arrived at a new school in Westchester on the bank of the Hudson River, equipped with state-of-the-art educational technology in the classroom, something that was lacking at her previous school. Studying at the Martin Luther King Jr. High School, which is part of the Greenburgh-Graham school district for students who are at-risk or have special needs in Hastings-on-Hudson, has changed the way she thinks about the future — her future.
“I’ve been drawing since I was two, but now I’ve started to think that there’s so much more I can do with my art,” she says. She’s planning to launch a startup to sell her anime-like ink drawings. “I’m going to do digital arts at college, and then I can see selling my designs on mugs and T-shirts and teacups,” she says. “Maybe after that, I’ll do animation because that’s something else I’m super interested in.”
The computers and other equipment that are redefining education at her school are similar to the advanced technology often found at private schools and in more affluent public school districts. But now, thanks to an initiative with Microsoft and other partners, HP is working to bridge the digital divide by providing equipment and opportunities to students who are underserved by their schools’ existing resources.
Bridging the digital divide
HP’s involvement began two years ago at Greenburgh-Graham’s Ziccolella Middle School, where HP turned a room in the basement into a Reinvent the Classroom Learning Studio equipped the latest generation of educational technology. Today, the initiative has grown into a program that now touches the daily school work of every student at MLK Jr. High School in a sleekly-designed STEAM classroom that opened earlier this month.
At MLK Jr. High School, Brianna is surrounded by technology that can help her to realize her dreams. In the school’s new HP and Microsoft Reinvent the Classroom STEAM Lab — short for science, technology, engineering, art and math — she is learning to create objects using 3D computer-assisted design (CAD) software. In addition to traditional pen and ink, she’s using a stylus and touchpads to develop drafting skills and expand the portfolio of drawings, portraits and designs she has submitted with her college applications.
In conjunction with HP partner MRA International, a hardware and software retailer and technical support provider in Long Branch, N.J., HP has put a Chromebook x360 Education Edition laptop in the hands of every student at the high school and provided powerful computers for teachers, as well as printers, power stations and other equipment in the classrooms.
Students also have access to a Sprout by HP Pro all-in-one immersive workstation, a Dremel 3D printer and HP ProBook x360 G2 PCs docked to HP 24-inch displays. Teachers can organize lessons and monitor their pupils’ progress on a powerful ZBook mobile workstation.
“For our students to thrive in school and in the world, we must harness the technology resources needed to function in a digital age,” says Greenburgh-Graham district superintendent of schools Oliver Levy. “This cutting-edge technology from HP will help us ensure equitable access to education that our high-need students are often denied.”
Preparing for the future
Reinvent the Classroom is a global initiative supported by HP and Microsoft, whose aim is to inspire, create and design next-generation learning experiences by leveraging HP technology and Microsoft solutions. The Learning Studios, part of the Reinvent the Classroom initiative, is a network of learning spaces around the world, equipped with powerful, cutting-edge technology designed for creation and collaboration. Managed by Digital Promise Global, this non-profit organization seeks to improve the opportunity to learn through technology and research.
As part of the Reinvent the Classroom initiative, HP and Fair Chance Learning also offered training workshops for teachers to integrate computer science instruction in a range of subject areas, including math, English language arts and social studies. The goal, says Dana Castro, HP education solutions manager, is to ensure all students at MLK Jr. High School have the computer science skills to thrive in a world where computing is ubiquitous and to seek out opportunities in computer-related job fields.
Until now, most students at MLK Jr. High School have had access to outdated technology, if any at all, in their educations. The majority of the 200 pupils have spent years in foster care, or have a parent who is incarcerated and, in some cases, have been incarcerated themselves, and half of them live in the red-brick residential halls on the suburban campus.
“I would say a majority of our students, specifically those in residence, have been through very severe trauma and carry that with them to school,” says Alyssa Abraham, who teaches history at MLK. “We’re definitely about giving our students the academic support in the classroom that they need, and also the emotional and social support — we’re a family, not a school.”
The schools of the Greenburgh-Graham district have an interesting pedigree. They were originally founded as a refuge for orphans more than 200 years ago by a group of prominent New York City women including the wife of Alexander Hamilton, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. And the association with one of the nation’s founding patriots lives on today: Luis A. Miranda, Jr., father of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the powerhouse creator of Hamilton, has been honored for his service and generosity to its children and families by Graham Windham, the youth development and family services agency that operates the district’s schools.
That storied history seems like a quaint footnote to the technological transformation at the the state-of-the-art facility today, where on a on a recent morning, Peyton, 14, described the powerful computers he is learning to use as a potential “game-changer” in the field he plans to one day pursue, law enforcement. “I could use social media to identify suspects and solve cases with efficiency, and use 3D printing to create an easy visual for investigators to see the big picture of what happened in specific crimes,” he says.
Tenth-grader Alinette, 17, who hopes to enroll in MLK Jr.’s certified nurse training program next year, which prepares students for a career in the high-tech healthcare industry, says she can picture herself using 3D printing to create simulations of human anatomy “to see how it works, without cutting into a patient,” she says. “I can also I can work with doctors to create 3D-printed organs for my patients, which will help me save more lives because the patient won't have to wait for a donor, which can be for years at a time.”
Meanwhile Brianna, the artist and budding entrepreneur, is deftly sketching a portrait of a teacher on the interactive whiteboard at the front of the STEAM Lab, which resembles a 21st-century maker-space. With the click of a button, she can store the image she has created on the device, or share it with teachers and fellow students on the HP ProBook x360. “Look, Miss Abraham, I made you look like a Potato Head,” she jokes modestly, a cascade of colorful braids partially hiding her face.
Brianna has been accepted for college next year at her first-choice school, the State University of New York at Buffalo, meaning she is one step closer to putting her plans in place. “In beginning before we got all of this technology at MLK, Brianna's dreams were a hobby,” says Abraham. “College wasn't really something that she was interested in, she didn't really have that direction. But now that she sees that there's a huge future in digital art, we can give her the foundational skills to get there. It’s bringing her dreams to life.”