Tackling the digital divide at under-resourced schools
The Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald is working to close the resource gap for students in his hometown of Minneapolis, putting new technology—and endless possibilities—within reach.
Like other communities across the country, Minnesota schools have been struggling to close their opportunity gap. Behind the scenes, Arizona Cardinals Wide Receiver and loyal Minnesotan Larry Fitzgerald has been working with local schools to do something about it. Larry recognizes that until we can all reach our full potential, our communities will never be as strong as they can be.
“I had a wonderful childhood growing up in Minneapolis,” says Fitzgerald. “When I got to the National Football League, I said, ‘I need to do something to give a young person the same opportunities that I was afforded.’”
He established the First Down Fund and connected with Hiawatha Academies—a network of high-performing K-12 charter schools in Minneapolis focused on disrupting the systemic inequity that leads to radically different levels of academic success for children based on their race, background, and socioeconomic status. He then partnered with Microsoft to put new technology in the hands of students there who often have least access to it.
“About 90% of our students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. So it’s even more important that they have access to technology in school, because their families simply can’t afford to have computers or tablets at home,” says Anna Eddie, Director of Operations at Hiawatha Collegiate High School. “We want to make sure when they go to college, they have just as much opportunity for success as their counterparts at more well-resourced schools.”
She adds that Fitzgerald’s gift ensures that all their students—not just a select few—are able to engage with technology across classrooms and subjects, from math to science to the media center. Over the last several years, Hiawatha Academies has grown into one of the area’s most successful charter school networks, with students being three times more likely than their peers in area schools to perform at grade level.
In 2017, Larry Fitzgerald was co-winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for his philanthropic work. Through a partnership between his First Down Fund and Microsoft, Fitzgerald is funding a new computer lab for Hiawatha.
At Hiawatha Academies, 98% of kids are students of color and 90% are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Their students are also three times more likely than their peers in area district schools to be performing at grade level.
"[Hiawatha Academies] have done a unbelievable job in this community of empowering young people,” says Fitzgerald. Kids are being given the tools and resources to research and dream about future careers—as educators, aircraft engineers, or whatever else they might envision.
“No matter where you come from, poor or wealthy, technology bridges all those gaps. You’re able to have the same information everybody else has,” says Fitzgerald. “There’s nothing more important than giving young people that opportunity to learn.“
For Fitzgerald, technology is a powerful means to an end. It’s about putting all kids, regardless of where they come from, on a level playing field and opening a world of opportunity that makes them believe they really can become or achieve anything.
“I wanted to put technology in the hands of kids and equip them to potentially do jobs that they don’t even know exist right now,” says Fitzgerald. “Technology sees no race. It sees no religion or socioeconomic background. It’s there for everyone.”
- Larry FitzgeraldTechnology sees no race. It sees no religion or socioeconomic background. It's there for everyone.
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