By Sara Martin


April 21, 2009

The fourth Digital Learning Environment Event was held on April 16 in Scottsdale at the beautiful Paradise Valley Resort. The event kicked off with a post breakfast keynote delivered by the inspiring superintendent Dr. Manuel Isquierdo, from Sunnyside Unified School District in Tucson, Arizona. Dr. Isquierdo shared how his district has developed an innovative plan to increase the graduation rate. Partnering with local businesses, the school district is issuing laptop computers to students who achieve predetermined goals for academic achievement.
Dr. Isquierdo shared the critical need to intervene and support students in their 9th grade. Freshman who fail or repeat 9th grade tend to fall into all or some of these categories:
1. Failing Algebra
2. Have poor reading comprehension and fluency
3. Lack intermediate academic skills-they are failing
4. Poor attendance
5. Lack of connections
Isquierdo also noted that compared to other grade levels, 9th grade dropouts tend to have more discipline problems. Faced with the highest dropout rate in the nation, Isquierdo moved with an intense sense of urgency to address the problem.
SUSD came up with a solution that involved the insurgence of technology as a reward for positive behavior. The initiative was called, “Project Graduation”. The plan was for freshman students in SUSD to earn the laptops after their first semester if they met the criteria that they call the 4 A’s: Academics, Attendance, School Activity and Attitude.
Here are the specific requirements:
• Academics:2.5 or higher grade point average
• Attendance: 95% or better attendance rate — no more than four excused absences, no unexcused, and must attend on the first day of school
• Activity: regular participation in a school-sponsored extracurricular activity
• Attitude: no out-of-school suspensions
The first year has been a tremendous success and has resulted in dramatic results in both student grades and attendance. The entire school culture has been positively affected by the program. Additional data with specific results can be viewed at the district website:
The laptops are awarded with great fanfare at a local college where parents and community supporters are invited to attend and cheer the efforts of the laptop recipients as they trade in their golden laptop tickets for the real deal. Efforts to involve the families and community in the initiative have also proved positive. The “Digital Advantage” is being extended to include after-school activities and other efforts to integrate technology into all core curriculums and classes.
Sunnyside’s’ community responded to the commitment and the vision of the school district. Isquierdo stressed that without vision, nothing of value can happen. He shared this old proverb to stress that point:
A vision without a plan is just a dream.
A plan without a vision is just drudgery.
But a vision with a plan can change the world.
Dr. Isquierdo closed his presentation by sharing a video of the student’s ceremony as they received their new laptops. Especially touching was the testimony of a parent regarding the positive change in behavior and attitude of her son. It was very apparent that this program is life-changing for everyone involved. Getting those laptops sends a very direct message to the recipients-that message is. “You can go to college-you can do it!”
More programs involving older students, (called “Digital Scholars”) parents and community are extending the success and continuing to bridge the digital divide for everyone involved.
Cost efficiencies are making the goal of one to one computing a reality, not just a dream. Improved software and applications that fit the curricular goals are getting more effective and more affordable. Companies such as Intel, hp and Microsoft provide support and resources to help make the dream a reality. For more support and ideas for integrating technology visit these sites:
Hp’s site: and
Microsoft’s site: