Anticipating that remote learning will continue in some capacity even after schools reopen, a group of Carolina Panthers and Lenovo has teamed with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) to provide 600 Chromebooks to school districts in Columbus and Richmond counties.
Lenovo is the technology partner of the Carolina Panthers Player Impact Committee led by current Panthers Chris Manhertz, Andre Smith, Stephen Weatherly and Panthers legend Mike Rucker.
The players created the committee in 2018 to provide support and assistance to organizations and causes across the Carolinas.
“Once this was brought to my attention, it was my responsibility to bring this to the Player Impact Committee and initiate this laptop program,” said Carolina Panthers Linebacker Andre Smith, a member of the Carolina Panthers Player Impact Committee. “I hope everyone gets involved because we can all do something to help others during these challenging times.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014-2018 American Community Survey 74.4 percent of households in Columbus had computers while 78 percent in Richmond had a computer. Roughly 87 percent of homes in the state have computers.
The lack of high-speed internet connections for rural students learning from home since mid-March due to the COVID-19 outbreak has also been a major concern for education leaders who fear students in those communities are at risk of falling behind in their coursework.
State officials estimate that more than 300,000 students across the state, many of them in rural communities, lack the internet connections and electronic devices needed to access remote learning opportunities.
Policy Watch reported last month that roughly 95% of households in North Carolina have access to broadband internet, which is slightly better than the national average of 93.5%. Still, large swaths of rural North Carolina do not have access, including some of the state’s high poverty areas.
North Carolina closed school buildings in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditional schools could reopen as early as August 17. Meanwhile, year-round schools could reopen next month.
Matthew Zielinski, president of Lenovo North America, said the sudden transition to distance learning put a spotlight on the digital divide that exist for some students and taxpayer supported school systems.
“Lenovo is committed to providing smarter technology for all and is proud to partner with the Carolina Panthers Player Impact Committee to support Richmond and Columbus County students with technology resources that will help further their education,” Zielinski said.
State Superintendent Mark Johnson said the last few months have shown the importance of remote learning and the challenges and struggles associates with it.
“This donation by the Carolina Panthers Player Impact Committee and Lenovo will go a long way in helping these two districts help their students,” Johnson said. “We are very grateful for the support from our partners.”