Digital Dreamers Initiative Fulfills Student, Teacher Needs

As of March 2018, more than 45,600 Chromebooks have been deployed to help DeKalb County School District (DCSD) students complete assignments and study courses. More than 6,800 Chromebooks have been deployed to teachers to make issuing assignments easier. Approximately 5,000 DCSD students now have access to the internet because of mobile hot spots.

This is the first phase of DCSD’s Digital Dreamers initiative, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

The Digital Dreamers initiative is a comprehensive technology program designed to enrich the educational experience for every DCSD student and teacher. The overall goal of the program is to place a Chromebook laptop in the hands of every middle and high school student and teacher by August 2018.

DCSD also partnered with Sprint to give high school students mobile internet hotspots, which allow students to access the internet from anywhere they please.

According to Cedar Grove High School junior Madison High, having a Chromebook laptop and hotspot at her disposal allows her to complete homework assignments before she leaves campus.

“I don’t have access to the internet at home, but now that I do, I can do homework, I can study, I can use interactive tools like Khan Academy, Edpuzzle and Google Classroom,” High said. “We can connect more. I don’t just learn in the classroom—I learn all day long.”

Before Digital Dreamers, High said she had to use her own personal cell phone data to communicate with her teacher via email. Now, she can achieve such a task in a matter of seconds without having to worry.

High said her grades and test scores have improved because she no longer has to worry about going to the library to complete online assignments. In addition, because of her busy schedule in School Senate, Superintendent Student Advisory Council, SCCLA, morning announcements and student government, without a way to complete assignments remotely, her grades would have suffered.

“I can go anywhere I want to go to do school projects—it’s more convenient,” High said. “Without Digital Dreamers, I would definitely be behind. I miss a lot of class being in and out in meetings.”

Cedar Grove senior Tayler Ellis shared a similar story. She said all of her teachers—spanning all subject areas—try to incorporate resources found online into lessons and coursework. In her AP Psychology class, Ellis said her text book is entirely online, which helps her, her classmates and the entire school save money.

“People learn differently. With the Chromebook and internet access, we can learn in so many different ways,” Ellis said. “Digital Dreamers has helped create alternative [ways of learning] when things get difficult. I always stay ahead, and I’m able to pace myself better online.”

Ellis said she has completed assignments on the bus, at home, in a car, at school—anywhere she pleases. She said her favorite place to get things done is in her room, headphones on, focused on her Chromebook.

“Our work has increased, but it’s easier to maneuver,” Ellis said.

Like High, Ellis said her commitment to being Cedar Grove’s chief programming officer, student government, and a leadership business academy keeps her busy. Luckily, DCSD’s Digital Dreamers has met her half way and kept her on task.

Instructional Support Specialist at Cedar Grove, Angela Woods, said Digital Dreamers has totally changed the school’s instructional environment. She said the program has provided equal footing to teachers and students, allowing both to remotely connect to the classroom if needed and have an easier time completing assignments.

Woods said that the initiative has allowed students to make up assignments easier and faster, whether a class is missed by illness, a family emergency or even suspension. She said high school classes are beginning to resemble college courses more and more, but still retain the deep teaching and learning style of DCSD schools.

“There is not one classroom in the building that hasn’t embraced the journey of hybrid teaching styles,” Woods said. “Our students are equipped with laptops and hotspots to work at home and elsewhere. I have witnessed students working on projects in the hallways, after school while outside and waiting for a ride home, and literally sitting in circles to share what they are doing.”

At Cedar Grove the Digital Dreamers initiative has transformed the media center from a traditional library to a collaborative learning space where students come together and learn.

“We’ve reached the point where if a student does not have a device, it’s important we get them one—otherwise they’ll fall behind,” Woods said.

DCSD’s Digital Dreamers initiative is spear-headed by Chief Information Officer, Gary Brantley. He says the initiative is fulfilling its overall mission of bridging divides between students and online access.

“We are bringing students technology as they prepare for their future,” Brantley said. “This helps make sure they can succeed and they are equipped to compete in the world after high school.”

Brantley said being able to help students like High and Ellis is why the Digital Dreamers initiative began in the first place. He said Woods’ observations at Cedar Grove can be seen at high schools throughout DeKalb County.

“Digital Dreamers allows students who don’t have access to technology explore new ways of learning. It will give them access to the internet in a controlled, education-focused environment,” Brantley said. “They can explore new ways to do research. They can think about different ways of completing homework. This can improve the ways teachers and students are collaborating in the classroom—students can have interactive debates and quickly share information with one another while teachers provide direct instruction and communicate more effectively. We continue to find new ways to improve learning and evolve.”

Round 2 of Digital Dreamers will begin in August 2018.