Digital Equity Champions for All Learners: Achieving Digital Equity for My Community Will Require Supporting Our Schools and Educators

Office of Ed Tech
4 min readFeb 28, 2023
A teacher writes on a digital whiteboard
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages (CC-BY-NC 4.0)

Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) is one of the nation’s 20 largest districts and the second-largest school system in Maryland. PGCPS serves a diverse student population from urban, suburban, and rural communities outside of Washington, D.C. and is recognized nationally for its college and career readiness programs that provide students with unique learning opportunities, ranging from dual enrollment to language immersion. PGCPS’ mission is to “provide a transformative educational experience anchored by excellence in equity — developing 21st century competencies and enabling each student’s unique brilliance to flourish in order to build empowered communities and a more inclusive and just world.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, PGCPS had just 35 out of 208 schools fully operating a 1:1 device/student environment. When schools moved to emergency remote learning in March 2020, PGCPS quickly built up the district’s technology capacity. To ensure every student had access to a device for emergency remote learning, the district purchased Chromebooks for students in grades 1–12 and iPads for Pre-K and Kindergarten students using the Coronavirus Relief and Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funds. The Broadband for Unserved Students Grant from the Governor’s Office of Rural Broadband provided internet service to more than 7,900 families along with 5,900 hotspots, and PGCPS used Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to purchase additional hotspots. The district also activated its parent engagement assistants and community schools coordinators to work with families and internet providers to enroll eligible households in the Affordable Connectivity Program.

As our district sets a vision for post-pandemic recovery, leaders distributed a survey to staff, students, parents, caregivers, and the broader school community to provide feedback on how the district should spend ESSER funds. The results revealed a consensus — our community must continue to advance digital equity for all and make technology one of its top investment priorities for the future.

Recently, through conversations with PGCPS teachers at my high school, I learned that while increasing equitable access to technology, including devices and reliable, high-speed broadband, is critical, it will not be enough to truly move the needle on digital equity. Without adequate professional development opportunities, characterized by ongoing coaching and peer-to-peer support, there may not be sufficient guidance for how teachers can leverage these new resources and create engaging and active learning experiences.

For example, at my high school, digital whiteboards were distributed across several classrooms following the 2021–2022 school year. While some professional development sessions were offered afterwards, the teachers I spoke with voiced how they would have preferred the ability to try the new tool prior to rollout, alongside opportunities to deeply consider how it can be used in service of instruction. Our teachers persevered by experimenting with different strategies and naturally forming a support community, where teachers who quickly adopted the tool supported those who needed additional assistance.

Matthew Levy, a social studies teacher at my school, was one such educator who took initiative. In addition to his teaching role, he is a professional development leader and serves on the “Engage Tech” Team, which provides human-level supports to both teachers and students. While the digital whiteboard training sessions provided some basic guidance, Mr. Levy implemented different strategies and methods to adapt the tool to meet his needs and shared this knowledge with peers. Through this experience, Mr. Levy highlighted that schools can create a culture of innovation, encouraging the use of new strategies unlocked through technology, especially among those who may be hesitant to take risks and try new ways of teaching and learning.

I believe this in turn can influence the student body. When teachers model lifelong skills such as creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking, students also learn how to operate in an environment that encourages innovation and teamwork.

This local level example has additional implications on system-wide decisions. At the end of 2022, states began receiving funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to develop plans that aim to advance digital equity. Although, as emphasized by our district-wide survey data, increasing access to technology for all must be a core component of those plans, we cannot ignore the human-level supports for educators that are necessary to facilitate adoption and effective use of technology.

Lastly, it is critical that district and school administrators collaborate and communicate with educators as part of the digital tool and materials selection process to ensure the new resources meet educators’ and students’ needs. Students like me depend on such decisions to re-engage with our schools as we recover from the pandemic and continue our growth as lifelong learners and leaders.

Joyce Zhang is a junior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George’s County Public Schools, MD. She is a 2022–2023 student volunteer at the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

OET Intern Joyce Zhang
Author and OET intern, Joyce Zhang

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Office of Ed Tech

OET develops national edtech policy & provides leadership for maximizing technology's contribution to improving education. Examples ≠ endorsement