Tech Advancements Help Schools Give Low-Income Students More Opportunities

As President of Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep, I have the privilege of spending my days with an immensely talented group of young people. While they are blessed with an excess of talent, there is scarce access to opportunities to develop and demonstrate those talents.

The vast majority of our students come from low-income families, some without wi-fi or home computers. Even without these seemingly standard pieces of equipment, their experience with advanced technologies never ceases to surprise me. While they may not have internet connection at home, they know where to find it. They may not have a computer, but they've taught themselves how to use one. Even without personal access, this generation has grown up in an age of technology, and they've embraced the understanding that they need to know how to use it in order to succeed.

As tech advancements continue to impact the workforce, educators are responsible for ensuring that students - regardless of their backgrounds - are equipped with the skills to thrive in the tech-savvy jobs of the future. As a school, we must wonder - how can we increase their access to technology to capitalize on their skills? How do we prepare them for the technology of the future that their jobs will likely rely on?

Part of our school's culture is to immerse our students into real-life work experiences so that they are able to put their skills to work. By partnering with some of the leading businesses in the Lake County community, this enables us - a small school with few resources - to provide students with opportunities to explore AI and work with leading technologies in the workplace.

These real-life experiences help preserve a student's intellectual curiosity. Seeing how their new-found skills and knowledge are put to use helps fuel their desire to continue learning. Knowing that they will use these skills learned in class in real life makes the students approach their studies differently. Instead of looking at it as something they just have to get through, they look at it as a stepping stone towards their future.

Last week, I joined education leaders from across the country at the Age of Agility Summit Illinois to discuss how the educational community must embrace technology in a way that prepares students to compete in the economy of the future. Adjusting to this digital age will take more conversations and collaborations like the one held at Age of Agility Summit Illinois, so that businesses and educators can work together to enable the next generation of leaders to be prepared to adapt to new technologies and the evolving jobs that come along with them.

While technology has left a large mark on society, it will never fully eliminate human contact. We will always need critical thinking and opportunities for our ideas to be challenged by others. Fortunately, technology has allowed that to happen on a greater level, and we no longer need to be in the same room as someone to interact and share ideas.

This type of advancement has allowed our school to significantly expand our course offerings. As a participant in the Jesuit Virtual Learning Academy, we are able to provide our students with an expansive library of programs on subjects we cannot afford to offer ourselves; including engineering, astrophysics and more. Students have access to different teachers and courses, allowing them to learn from some of the best of the best. If not for technology, how else would my students have the opportunity to learn from one of the leading astrophysicists in the world?

Technology is evolving every day, but it continues to have an overwhelmingly positive impact on the way we are able to educate our students. I've seen firsthand how important it is to adapt our teaching methods to the new opportunities made available to us through tech advancements. It's crazy to think that when we opened our first school, 90% of the jobs students were working on, don't even exist anymore. Jobs are changing, but we must embrace those changes. If we accept the change and learn to adapt our teaching, we will enable our next generation of citizens to be better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow.

Preston Kendall is the President of Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep in Waukegan, IL.

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