Bridging the Divide: Boosting Attendance and Engagement with Technology

Our world is technologically driven, and schools must make a concerted effort to bridge the technological divide in order to avoid losing parent trust in public education.”

– Paul Creager, Curriculum & Media Arts Coordinator, Gordon Parks High School

Many students in Minnesota don’t have access to reliable technology – making it difficult for them to complete schoolwork, apply for jobs and correspond with teachers, friends, and employers. This leads to disconnected students and oftentimes causes them to disengage from school.

Gordon Parks High School (GPHS), an Alternative Learning Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, serves many students in a similar situation and wanted to send a strong message of support by helping them realize the importance of education and increase overall engagement.

To do this, Paul Creager, Curriculum & Media Arts Coordinator at GPHS, implemented a Positive Behavioral Intervention System (PBIS) in the spring of 2010 to reward students who maintained 80 percent or better attendance and excellent class performance during a nine-week period. The reward: a laptop from Minnesota Computers for Schools (MCFS). Class performance hinges on attendance, so rewards like laptops propel performance goals through a strategic focus on making attendance a priority.

“The laptop incentive program sends a strong signal to students and parents. We want students to feel our support for them, and laptops help to amplify that message,” said Creager. “Laptops exponentially increase students’ ability to complete homework outside of school, correspond with employers, universities, friends, and teachers via modern communication methods, and become literate with 21st-century technology.”

Thanks to invaluable partners Microsoft, 3M, and Travelers, MCFS donated 80 laptops to be awarded to students. For many of these students, this was the first computer they owned and they had big plans for using them – applying for college, completing schoolwork, finding employment, etc.

For some of the students, this program changed their overall performance and outlook on school and their future. One student who won a laptop said, “Now I’m starting to come to school every day so I can graduate and my grades are getting better.” When asked how she was going to use the laptop, her answer was simple: “For college.”

Another laptop recipient said, “Since I started coming to this school, I decided that maybe I need my education and I should stay in school.”

Students who earned a laptop inspired their peers to strive for excellence – in the fall of 2011, the number of students who qualified for a laptop doubled from the previous semester, and more students showed up on a regular basis because they also want to earn a laptop.

Working with students and schools by donating laptops in reward systems such as this not only helps to create digital equity in Minnesota, but gives students incentives to work hard in school. Every student deserves the opportunity to thrive, which requires investment from the community.