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It is an unfortunate fact, but nearly one-fourth of all students—and nearly forty percent of African-American, Hispanic, and Native American students—fail to graduate with their class. In an effort to combat those numbers, AT&T launched its “Aspire Initiative” in 2008, which is specifically focused on confronting the high school dropout crisis and to help ensure that students will graduate prepared for the future challenges of continuing education and the workforce.

While education funding has been hit hard these past few years, the $100 million philanthropic program is doing its part to ensure that technology-based programs aren’t a casualty to budgeting push and pull. Yesterday, Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s Chairman and CEO, upped the ante when he pledged an additional $250 million investment into its Aspire Initiative to a crowd of hundreds at America’s Promise Alliance’s “Building a Grad Nation” Summit. This came on the heels of Charlene Lake’s—AT&T’s Sr. Vice President of Public Affairs and Sustainability Officer—nationwide announcement of the investment on CNN’s “Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien” earlier that same morning.

AT&T Aspire, the largest education initiative in AT&T’s history, is designed to “support high school success and workforce readiness.” It includes four primary components:
1.Grants to school districts and nonprofit organizations focused on high school retention and better preparing students for college and/or the workforce.
2.Job shadowing for 100,000 students, in conjunction with Junior Achievement, giving students the chance to see firsthand the job skills they will need to be successful in the future.
3.Commissioning the next chapter of major research on the high school dropout issue and solutions by directly engaging education practitioners.
4.Underwriting Dropout Prevention summits, organized by America’s Promise Alliance, which will explore the high school dropout crisis and ways to address it.

In addition, there is the AT&T Aspire Local High School Impact Initiative Request for Proposal (RFP). This program is focused on high school success and college and career readiness programs that will maintain AT&T’s commitment to support local organizations that are delivering results that help reduce the dropout rates in their communities.

AT&T has expressed a special interest in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and increasing the number of minority and underrepresented students in these fields. AT&T will therefore also give additional consideration to organizations that focus on the STEM disciplines in their programs for students who are at risk of dropping out of school and encourage these students to pursue these fields of study in college and career when evaluating the RFPs.

AT&T’s financial commitment to the nation’s youth is vitally important because without a significant investment into technology-based education, our children’s ability to compete on the world stage would be seriously encumbered. It is not enough that teens are able to update their statuses on Facebook or tweet. They must know to effectively research online and efficiently find and utilize tools to supplement their learning.

However, the commitment to technology-based education doesn’t stop with the students. Teachers must also be taught what Bob Wise, President of Alliance for Excellent Education, called “The Three Ts”:

Teaching: Examine how teachers are involved when students use technology. How does teaching change with technology?

Technology: What is the right technology necessary for a particular situation?

Time: How will the teacher instruct the students to use their time with technology, and which is more effective for each student? Would at-home study or in-school study be best to advance the students’ progression?

As education standards have gone up and the cost of technology has gone down, we need to use technology to educate our children more effectively.

As Hope Johnston, an academic support specialist at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, said during the summit, “Do not prepare kids for our past. We must prepare them for their futures.” Fortunately, AT&T is doing its part to ensure that this happens, and hopefully more companies will follow suit with an equally generous investment into America’s future.