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WWT and Intel bring smart schools to post-Maria Puerto Rico

Pooling technology strengths to create schools of excellence in the Mayaguez School District

At WWT, community engagement is woven into our company’s DNA – not just at the local level but on a global scale as well. We’re not alone in this commitment: our strategic technology partner Intel shares our top-down passion for giving back wherever we can make a difference.

In late November, our two companies embarked on a first-ever joint mission to extend aid to hurricane-ravaged schools in Puerto Rico. A total of twelve volunteers, six from WWT’s Corporate Social Responsibility initiative and six from the Intel Employee Services Corps (IESC), teamed up on a weeklong mission to the western side of the devastated island. There, we assessed the damage in one school district, provided much-needed school and personal supplies, and mapped a strategy for the next phase of relief that can serve as a model for other relief efforts.

Recruiting a specialized team

In assembling our frontline team for the mission to Puerto Rico, WWT and Intel selected volunteers for their diverse skill sets that would be applicable to the technology relief effort. Members included enterprise network practice managers, technical solution architects for deployment, and sales professionals for OEM relations, as well as jack-of-all-trades talent for the countless non-tech repair projects needed. For example, at one point on the mission, our people helped remove an asphalt-coated steel roof that hurricane winds had peeled off a nearby building and deposited atop a nearby library.

Once on the ground, WWT and Intel team leaders determined that they could accomplish the most good by focusing on the technology needs of a single school district in western Puerto Rico, Mayaguez School District. Working with a local educational technology provider, Camera Mundi, our WWT-Intel relief force – along with 22 volunteers – broke into 10 separate teams. Over the next eight 12-hour days, we visited the District’s 160 schools, many in remote, hard-to-reach areas.

To render immediate assistance, the WWT-Intel team distributed $4,000 of donated supplies in relief bags containing pens, pencils, crayons, markers and notebooks, as well personal items such as toothpaste and toothbrushes, bug spray, and hand sanitizer.

With collapsed debris everywhere, the badly damaged schools were littered with waterlogged desks, devices, cabinets, books, supplies, personal belongings, all piled in corners, with no one to haul them away. Yet at every school we were greeted by smiling children and teachers who were grateful for our help and eager to assist us.

Determining what's available, and what's needed

IT specialists began the process of assessing each school’s technology capabilities and needs, and then prioritizing where we can make our biggest impact. As teams conducted their assessments, they found that a few schools were reasonably well provisioned for technology, but most were not – especially in remote mountainous regions.

As part of the project, Intel began by conducting technology conversations through the Puerto Rico Secretary of Education. Once onsite, the WWT-Intel team coordinated local activities with the Regional Director in Mayaguez, and worked with each individual school Director and local educators. The teams assessed each individual school’s technology gaps, made wireless and network assessments, and began preparing to introduce modern learning devices for students and teachers alike – and for many, it will be their first hands-on experience with such devices.

The damage we encountered in every school was severe: half the island is still without power and internet, and infrastructure repairs will extend well into 2018. But the people are resilient: teachers conducted lessons with children in hot, dark, humid classrooms. In regions that do have internet, students utilize their smart phones for instructional purposes.

WWT and Intel volunteers realized that hurricane damage notwithstanding, many of Puerto Rico’s biggest education technology needs existed well before the storms. Network connectivity at most schools was solid, but the number and condition of devices available to most students and teachers fell significantly short of what’s required. Even the schools’ newest PCs, laptops, projectors and smartboards were three to five years old. Most schools only had a handful of computers for teachers and few to none for students. Many laptops were locked away in a cabinet, unable to hold a charge and now used only sparingly if at all.

We plan to do much more than simply return Mayaguez schools to status quo – when our work is completed, it will actually advance the district’s IT capabilities into the 21st century. Before Maria, much of its technology was already obsolete, broken or non-existent. In addition, WWT and Intel will arrange with Camera Mundi for the necessary training and ongoing support to help everyone get the most out of their new technology tools, now and for years to come.

Our joint relief effort continues

Phase II planning is underway as WWT and Intel prepare for a return to Puerto Rico in March or April 2018. We’re lining up donations and equipment to be installed in Mayaguez schools: computer labs, teacher PCs, supporting infrastructure, technology training to fit curriculum goals, and a mechanism to make it all self-sustaining.

Our vision extends beyond the Mayaguez School District: WWT and Intel intend to establish “schools of excellence” to mirror our validated success in this one district. Our hope is that our contribution can create a spark that inspires similar restoration projects extending across all of Puerto Rico.

Our technology restoration mission for Puerto Rico schools resumes in just a few months, and you’re invited to follow our accomplishments – educational as well as humanitarian – in future blog posts.