Piedmont City School District

Updated May 15, 2019

Addressing community needs

Piedmont, Alabama

Alabama ranks as one of the poorest states in the nation, with poverty ranging from 20% to 35% in the state’s most rural areas. A Montgomery Adviser article helps paint a picture of rural education where Piedmont City School District is located: “98% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Test scores are low, there’s little diversity, teachers struggle to get parents involved, and there are few after-school programs because it’s difficult for students to get transportation.” The state ranks lowest in the nation for both 4th and 8th grade math on the NAEP. The Piedmont City School District has one elementary school, a middle school, and a high school, enrolling a total of approximately 1,240. In an effort to improve student outcomes, the district adopted a formal digital learning program in 2009; it soon found that the program could help transform the entire community.

Piedmont was once a thriving rural town, as it served as a crossing for two stagecoach routes and as a hub of the cotton textile industry for many years, according to the Montgomery Adviser article. However, in recent years, the town took economic hits when two major employers moved or shut down. Many local businesses suffered as well. The impact on families was severe, forcing regional struggles in employment and future opportunities.

The mPower Piedmont movement (mPower) started with a pilot program at Piedmont High which provided 150 laptops to students; in 2010, this plan expanded to include grades 4–12. In 2012, a check-out program for laptop computers was implemented for grades K–3. Today, Piedmont City School District is fully 1:1 with a device for every student in district. Early elementary students use a variety of mobile devices appropriate to their grade level, while students from grades 4–12 are issued a laptop for their own designated use.

mPower, while initially focused on students’ access, expanded beyond just the school. From the start former superintendent Matt Akin saw mPower as nothing short of a community transformation initiative—to boost the self-esteem and self-efficacy of the entire community. While devices for schools was a starting point, the school district’s leadership realized quickly that they needed to address Internet access and connectivity disparities within the community as a whole. Many students in the district live in rural areas where Internet connection is unavailable; for other students, a broadband connection may be available but the expense puts it out of their family’s reach. Initially, the school district partnered with a virtual service company to expand broadband access across Piedmont and later was funded to build a citywide wireless network, providing every student and their family 24/7 access. When the grant supporting this infrastructure ran out, the district had to figure out different ways to get access. Today, the schools use MiFi boxes or cards to support at-home access for students and families. The district also partnered with local entities to create a support network; some local businesses, restaurants, and churches offer free wifi for students and their families to work online. Rachel Smith, Piedmont’s Curriculum Coordinator and Administrator for Federal Programs says, “This initiative—both the connectivity and the devices—is a game-changer, not just for our students, but their families. We hear stories of parents who completed a GED or college classes on the school-issued devices after the kids were in bed.”

This profile was developed from a case study published in the Digital Learning Strategies for Rural America report.

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