Free smartphones will help hundreds of St. Louis students with homework, online classes

ST. LOUIS • About 1,200 St. Louis Public Schools students are getting free Samsung Galaxy smartphones to do their homework and take online classes.

It's part of an initiative by Sprint called the 1 Million Project that's meant to close the so-called "homework gap" by giving one million free devices to students across the country. The term "homework gap" refers to children who live in households that lack broadband access.

"Technology is simply a tool. It doesn't do anything but give kids more access," said Superintendent Kelvin Adams. "This takes away a barrier."

Several St. Louis students who got free smartphones on Wednesday said they already have their own. But one 18-year-old student, Ali Briggs, says he can't afford a data plan for his phone right now. One 16-year-old student, DaVonte Lynton, said his smartphone doesn't work anymore. Another, LaToya Ross, 18, said having the free data service on the Sprint phone will relieve her own limited data plan.

"It'll definitely help," Ross said. She currently has her mom drive her about 15 minutes to the library anytime she needs to do work for her six online classes. Now, with the free phone, she can work from home.

Sprint conceived of this project based on a Pew Research Center analysis of 2013 data that showed about 5 million households with school-age children lack broadband access.

Tim Donahue, Sprint president of the Kansas and Missouri region, said he thinks many students nowadays use their phones for schoolwork.

"It's a generational thing," Donahue said. "Some kids are very, very comfortable doing their homework on their smartphones."

The free phones come with unlimited data and calls. But the district will have to cover costs if phones are damaged, lost or otherwise need to be replaced, Donahue said.

The phones do not have texting. The phones will also be blocked from Facebook and content such as pornography sites, according to the district.

Sprint is also giving 300 devices to students in the University City school district.