ADELPHI – President Barack Obama said a country that expects free Wi-Fi with its coffee should demand it in its schools, in a speech at Buck Lodge Middle School Tuesday, his second visit to Prince George’s County since last week’s State of the Union address.
Obama laid out the progress made to connect 99 percent of students in the U.S. to high-speed Internet and cutting edge technologies, part of the federal ConnectED initiative started last year, and brought along business leaders with deep pockets to help fund the program.
“We can announce some very big commitments that are going to go a long way towards realizing that vision that every child has the access to the technology that they can use to help them learn,” Obama said.
Reiterating his “call to action” from last week’s State of the Union address, Obama said he is not waiting for Congress to pass legislation to close the technology gap in schools.
“It won’t require a single piece of legislation from Congress. It won’t add a single dime to the deficit,” Obama said.
The president plans to fund the ConnectED initiative with major contributions from Apple, AutoDesk, Microsoft, AT&T, O’Reilly Media, Sprint and Verizon, as well as a $2 billion down payment from the FCC’s E-Rate program and grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Obama chose Buck Lodge to highlight the program because the school is one of four in Prince George’s County taking part in the Transforming Education through Digital Learning project and has issued iPads to all of its students.
Students at Buck Lodge were motivated by Obama’s message.
“The president inspired me to finish high school, and go to college and try and get an education,” said Julio Castillo, 14, an eighth-grader. Castillo aspires to be in the C.I.A after finishing school.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said Buck Lodge is an example of how kids are doing so much better with ConnectED.
“It is just terrific. We connected about 80 percent of our schools, so we are really excited. So the announcement of the president getting the business community involved in it is exciting,” Baker said.
Greg Eden, vice president of Autodesk, a major software provider, and one of the contributors, said his company has pledged over $250 million in software, services and curriculum.
“Education is a real focus for Autodesk. When it comes to middle and high school students we feel that the best thing we can do for the future is to give these students … access to the same tools that professionals around the world use,” Eden said.
Judson Althoff, president of Microsoft North America, said the company plans to contribute $1 billion in investments over the next year.
“It is important for the youth of America to have the technology and tools that businesses have. It is important for us to be competitive around the world,” Althoff said.
Ashley Acevedo, 13, an eighth-grader, said she liked everything the president said in his speech. She said that having the iPad at school makes it much easier to write and do research.
What stood out for Acevedo was when the president talked about all the money that businesses were going to donate to the schools to make them better.