A report from Houston Public Media last April cited data from the National Center for Education Statistics that said one out of every four households in Texas does not have access to broadband internet, and about 8 million homes don't have a computer or smartphone.

This digital divide is something Houston ISD has been trying to bridge in the last year. And a new program from telecommunications company Verizon will help two local middle schools do just that.

Clifton Middle School at 6001 Golden Forest Dr. and Hamilton Middle School at 139 E. 20th St. are two of 12 HISD middle schools to be added to the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program, which addresses barriers to digital inclusion.

Each partner school receives an in-kind award of Chromebooks for all students, teachers and administrators. Participating schools will be assigned a full-time coach to train teachers in effectively integrating technology into their lessons.

Verizon’s education initiative is in partnership with Digital Promise, a national nonprofit organization that seeks to spur innovation in education.

“Verizon’s program is a wonderful parallel provision to the district having supplied our students with devices and hotspots to facilitate virtual and in-person learning since the pandemic began,” HISD interim superintendent Grenita Lathan said in a news release. “Our students must remain digitally connected long after the pandemic is over in order to maximize their 21st century learning experience.”

Six HISD middle schools previously were accepted into the Verizon program in the spring of 2020. They were Edison, Fleming, Hartman, Henry, Holland and Tanglewood middle schools.

Each Chromebook is equipped with a data plan that provides “always-available” access outside of the classroom. Funds are provided for a full-time campus instructional technologist dedicated to providing teachers with support to effectively leverage technology in the classroom. The program lasts two years, with the possibility of a two-year extension after the second year.

Last September, HISD received a $1 million grant from the Moody Foundation to purchase computers for HISD’s Achieve 180 students on some of the district’s underperforming campuses.

Also in September the HISD school board passed a budget amendment to spend $31 million on devices for students.

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