Connected Classrooms

Samsung, AT&T providing tablets, internet to Pickens County middle schoolers

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter

EASLEY — Pickens County sixth and seventh graders are now able to bring the connected classrooms of today home with them.

Last Wednesday, the School District of Pickens County announced a partnership that will connect Pickens County middle school students.

AT&T is providing free 4G internet to sixth and seventh graders in the district at all five of its middle schools — Dacusville, Edwards, Gettys, Liberty and Pickens.

9-7 Page 1A.inddSamsung will donate 2,500 Galaxy tablets to those middle school students and their teachers.

The announcement was held at Gettys Middle School.

“This is a great day in Pickens County,” Gettys principal Mike Cory said. “Today is the most exciting announcement and business partnership that I have ever seen.”

Work has been going on behind the scenes for the last several years to secure the partnership, officials said.

“It took a lot of folks on the ground level to make this happen,” said Ted Creech, director of external affairs for AT&T South Carolina. “A lot of people have been working toward this day for a long time.”

The school district’s mission is to provide “a quality, 21st-century education for all of you,” Cory told his students. “We are taking a great step forward toward that vision today.”

Valued at more than $5 million over three years, the contribution is part of AT&T’s national commitment to the White House ConnectED initiative.

Creech had some questions for the students gathered at the announcement assembly.

“Are you ready to be the best sixth-grade class to ever be at Gettys, ever?” he asked. “Seventh graders, are you ready to show the eighth-graders who’s boss?”

“AT&T is excited about the future because we are excited about you as students,” Creech said. “And we are committed to you as students. More now than at any time in history, it is critical that we invest in young people to develop a diverse talent pipeline of young people with the skills to help our society prosper.”

It has been estimated that by 2020, there will be a “global shortage of approximately 40 million high-skilled workers and 45 million medium-skilled workers,” Creech said.

“To me, that says to all of you students, the stronger, the better the education you receive, the greater the opportunities for you going forward into the future,” he said, adding technologies are “fundamentally altering education.”

“Especially where and when learning happens,” Creech said. “AT&T decided that we want to be a part of that change, to leverage technology, relationships, social innovation, to help all students make their biggest dreams become reality.”

In 2008, AT&T Aspire, the company’s signature philanthropic initiative, was launched. AT&T Aspire’s focus is “helping students succeed in school and beyond,” Creech said.

“Through Aspire, we have passed the $250 million dollar mark on our plan to invest $350 million in education between 2008 and 2017,” he said. “We’ve impacted more than one million students across all 50 states.”

Mobile internet needs to be utilized more effectively to help teachers and students learn “wherever they are,” Creech said.

In 2014, AT&T committed, as part of the national ConnectED initiative, to provide connectivity for more than 50,000 students across the country.

“Proposals came from schools and school districts all over the country, including Pickens County” Creech said. “The competition was fierce — but I am here today with very, very good news. We’re thrilled to be able to make the announcement.”

Ted Brodheim, vice president of vertical business at Samsung Electronics America, ran technology for New York City Public Schools, one of the first school districts in the nation to put tablets in the classrooms.

“I’ve seen firsthand how much of a positive impact those tablets can have, in terms of the teaching and learning environment,” he said. “I’m sure in Pickens County you’re going to see the same results, and I can’t wait to see they look like.”

He said Samsung was very excited to be working with AT&T as part of the ConnectED initiative. Brodheim said his company is committed to education. Samsung runs a program called Hope for Children, which focuses on education, healthcare and sustainability for children.

“We believe that success goes hand-in-hand with good corporate citizenship,” Brodheim said.

He told the audience that the tablets will “completely change the game.”

He asked the students if they liked to use the latest technology — a question that was met with a resounding “Yes!”

“These are going to open up a whole new world of opportunity to you,” Brodheim told teachers and students. “You’re going to have access to all kinds of new information. And no matter where your careers take you, you’re going to be able to use these things to explore all kinds of new opportunities, to learn about the world, to make decisions going forward.”

School District of Pickens County superintendent Danny Merck thanked everyone who worked to secure the grant that makes the new tech in the classrooms possible.

“It is appreciated more than you will ever know,” he said. “Today is a great day in Pickens County.”

After a quick starter lesson on digital citizenship, the students began receiving their new tablets.

“I feel like Santa Claus,” Gettys teacher Christie Vaughn said as she handed out the new tech to her students.

Officials hailed the partnership and what it will do for Pickens County schools.

“This project will help students set goals and pursue dreams which may be far beyond any they previously imagined,” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said. “It is truly an investment in our students and in South Carolina’s future.”

Merck read from a letter from Gov. Nikki Haley, congratulating the district for being selected for the national award.

“Our state is competing in the 21st-century economy, and investing in technology both in and outside the classroom will play a vital role in ensuring we’re teaching children for the future and not the past,” Haley wrote.

In addition to providing the internet access and tablets, the partner companies have also committed to provide the schools with tech support, device management, filtering software and professional development training for teachers.

“We’re looking forward to the great things teachers will be able to do with this connectivity, that students will be able to do with the connectivity, to enhance learning in the classroom, and to extend that experience well beyond the schoolhouse walls,” Creech said.

Officials with both companies said they look forward to coming back to Pickens County in about a year to see firsthand the progress that’s been made.

“We’re excited about how this project is going to impact students and their families in the classroom, in the school and beyond the school walls,” Creech said.

“It will be so much more than a device,” Cory said.