Bridging Schools' Digital Divide

Verizon Donates $10M+ to Heart of America Program to Expand Innovative Learning Labs

Grant Will Allow 50 More Labs to be Built in Under-Resourced Schools

National education nonprofit Heart of America on Monday announced a landmark grant of over $10 million from Verizon, which will dramatically expand the organizations' partnership, dubbed Verizon Innovative Learning Labs, aimed at infusing technology in some of the nation's most under-resourced schools. 

Since 2018, the Verizon-Heart of America program has built over 50 Verizon Innovative Learning Labs in 18 cities across the country, and the new grant provides the opportunity to create another 50 labs, according to a news release. Additionally, the Innovative Learning Lab project-based online curriculum used in the new labs has been made available for free to all educators on the Verizon Innovative Learning HQ website

“Tailored with emerging technology and outfitted with modular furniture designed to optimize learning for each school partner, the labs provide students with access to next-gen learning tools such as virtual reality equipment, 3D printing stations, augmented reality apps and more in a custom-designed, state-of-the-art experiential learning environment,” Heart of America said. 

Heart of America works closely with Verizon to oversee the design and construction of each of the digital labs, which are designed alongside local school leadership while “leveraging best practices of design thinking and education design principles,” the news release explained. According to a 2015 study published in the journal Building and Environment, changing core elements of classroom design can increase student learning outcomes by 16 percent. 

Leveraging such core elements, the Verizon Innovative Learning Labs integrate cutting-edge technology in a dynamic space to “promote immersive and collaborative learning experiences for students and educators,” the organization said. 

In addition to the physical space provided for students, the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab program includes a robust online curriculum, which was created by the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute at Arizona State University and is supported by ongoing instruction to help teachers better implement the curriculum and maximize the labs’ sustainability. The curriculum emphasizes design thinking and social innovation to enable students to make an impact in their communities; the program's curriculum was recently made freely available on Verizon Innovative Learning HQ. 

Schools are selected for the Innovative Learning Lab program by team leaders from Arizona State University and Heart of America, the nonprofit said. 

"By ensuring more students have access to these thoughtfully-designed spaces, and cutting-edge resources that are often only in the hands of wealthy school districts, our partnership with Verizon is helping level the playing field for students in many of our country's most under-resourced communities," Heart of America President and CEO Jill Hardy Heath said in the news release. 

The grant is part of the Citizen Verizon campaign for economic, environmental, and social advancement; the company's investments to help vulnerable communities are expected to exceed $3 billion between 2020 to 2025, Verizon has said. 

"These new spaces and the technology inside … give students the room to dream and reshape the stories they tell themselves – about what their futures will look like and what's possible,” Hardy Heath added. “The feeling of self-worth and opportunity they are giving students in need across our country is something you simply can't put a price on."

About the Author

Kristal Kuykendall is editor, 1105 Media Education Group. She can be reached at [email protected].