Digital Divide

U.S. HUD chief talks technology with Nashville students in public housing

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
From left: Nashville student Precious Carter, Stratford principal Michael Steele, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and Mayor Megan Barry discuss barriers to Internet service in low-income areas.

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro visited a Nashville high school Wednesday to highlight a new program that he hopes will shrink the digital divide between students living in poverty and their more affluent peers.

Castro sat down with about a dozen students from Stratford STEM Magnet High School and their principal to discuss ConnectHome, an initiative from the Obama administration to provide Internet access to public housing in 28 communities across the nation, including Nashville and Memphis.

Many of the students assembled live in the James A. Cayce Homes, a public housing development in East Nashville. Mayor Megan Barry also joined the conversation.

Developing computer, keyboarding and Internet skills have become especially important in Tennessee this year as students transition to online end-of-course testing. Many educators and children’s advocates worry that students without computers at home will be at a disadvantage.

ConnectHome, which is scheduled to launch this spring, could be a “significant game-changer,” said Stratford principal Michael Steele.

“If there’s anything that hinders and you from being successful, it’s that you don’t have access to Wi-Fi at home,” Steele told the students, adding that it’s not just about homework. “It’s about things like being able to research a place you dream about.”

In the 20 percent of U.S. households that have the lowest income, nearly two-thirds own a computer, but less than half have a home Internet subscription, according to an analysis released last summer by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.

White House officials say ConnectHome is the next step in the president’s efforts to expand high-speed broadband to all Americans.

“My hope is because of (ConnectHome), younger kids will do better on those math and reading tests in third grade, and they’ll do better in middle and high school … and accomplish their dreams,” Castro said.

Sophomore Isean Lewis told Castro that the Internet is a good start, but that students need devices, too

“I’ve been living in Cayce pretty much all of my life,” Isean said. “My goal is to be a graphic designer. I take a class where we work on app development and other software. During afterschool, I come to the top floor … and work on design there. Unfortunately, when I go home, my goal to be a graphic designer is postponed because I don’t have any resources. How can your team help kids like me?’

Castro said the department is also working to provide more devices to families in public housing.

“We want to give students like you more time at home and on the weekends to engage with and develop your talent,” he said.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.