Free smart phones, Wi-Fi help close the 'homework gap' for Cumberland County students

Posted September 19, 2017 5:39 p.m. EDT
Updated September 19, 2017 6:48 p.m. EDT

— According to Sprint, 70 percent of high school teachers across the country assign homework that requires online connectivity, but more than 5 million families can't get online at home.

To “close the gap” in internet access, the Sprint 1 Million Project Activation Fair is granting free smart phones with unlimited talk, text and data so they can get online at home.

The initiative involves 180,000 students from 1,300 schools across the county, including 1,200 students from Cumberland County.

Physics teacher Brian Thompson communicates with 18 students from 12 different high schools through video conferencing on the internet. He says learning shouldn’t stop when school gets out.

"We can bring them in here with buses, and we can feed them, but when they go home, we don't want learning to stop once they leave our campus," Thompson said.

Kevin Coleman, Cumberland County Schools’ technology director, said the phones will offer hotspots, so that students can utilize wireless internet at home.

"And also if they say they don't have a device like a laptop or a tablet to use with wireless internet, we're able to provide them with a laptop also, so they would have the internet and something to use it with," he said.

The project is designed to help close the "homework gap." Students get to keep the phone and free service throughout their high school careers.

"The bottom line is that every kid that comes through the door and leaves out the door has an equal chance and an equal footing, so all they have to do is put in an equal amount of effort to succeed," Thompson said.

The program is a five-year grant, so students who get the phone in 9th grade get to keep the service until they graduate. Cumberland County is one of eight school districts in North Carolina that is activating Sprint cell phones for students.