By Diana Matthews, The News Reporter
Three hundred Columbus County Schools students will start the new school year with a Chromebook laptop donated by the Carolina Panthers and Lenovo. High school students without access to a computer at home will have priority access to the devices. Another 300 Chromebooks will be given to Richmond County Schools, according to a Tuesday morning online press conference featuring linebacker and Player Impact Committee leader Andre Smith, Lenovo representative John Bischof and state and local educators.
Carolina Panthers Linebacker Andre Smith is pictured during the online press conference
The NFL team and the computer manufacturer are teaming up to provide the devices. The Panthers Player Impact Committee studied “a lot of data” about the state’s neediest local school districts before selecting the recipients, Smith said. Lenovo has already given more than $1 million worth of aid to N.C. schools, mostly in the counties closest to Raleigh, Bischof said, and the company was “thrilled to be involved” in the current outreach to more rural areas. Deanne Meadows, superintendent of Columbus County Schools, thanked the Panthers, Lenovo and the Department of Public Instruction for “an amazing gift” that will “help overcome equity issues.” The superintendent said that CCS is still working to recover from the October cyber incident that left many devices unusable. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the barriers many students in the county face, said Meadows. Many live in poverty and have no electronic devices at home other than perhaps a cell phone. “Fixing those barriers is a big priority for us,” she said. “You’re helping us meet a need and provide our students with a necessity.” Meadows called education “the greatest gift” a society can give to individuals. “This will help us give a good educational experience to students as we move forward,” she said. Jeff Maples of Richmond County Schools said that it was exciting to know that there are “people out there that care about our kids and our teachers.” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson said that, as the pandemic forced schools to adapt rapidly to new learning methods, the Panthers asked him, “What can we do? How can we help?” They told him they wanted to support school districts that needed help the most. “Quite frankly,” Johnson said, county-by-county surveys showed that “the gaps (in Columbus and Richmond counties) were so big, that that was where (the donation) could have the biggest impact.” Smith said that the idea grew out of volunteer work that Panthers players and friends were already doing to address reading deficiencies. Rather than doing “the cutest things,” committee members “like to be more hands-on, more nitty-gritty, and really help those who need our help,” he said.