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Federal Grants Fund VR Headsets in Low-Income Texas Schools

Thirteen school districts near the Mexico border will use U.S. Department of Education GEAR UP grants to buy ClassVR headsets from Avantis Systems, which come with access to a library of educational media.

A student in a classroom looking to the side while wearing a VR headset.
The San Isidro Independent School District in Texas hasn’t budgeted much for field trips, but students there will still experience a 20th-century California ranch, New York City’s Time Square and the inside of an atom.

That district and 12 others in a low-income area along the southern U.S. border were awarded federal GEAR UP grants to purchase ClassVR (virtual reality) headsets from the ed-tech company Avantis Systems, according to a Dec. 1 news release and the Region One (Texas) Education Services Center (ROESC).

While all of the recipient districts have not yet specified how this technology will be used by grade level, San Isidro educators provided examples of how the ClassVR headsets will benefit their students. In English classes, they will immerse students in scenes from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. For social studies, they can simulate trips to major U.S. cities, and for science they can illustrate what an atom looks like, according to the news release.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) grants are available for middle and high schools in high-poverty areas, including these school districts in south Texas. In San Isidro, for example, 100 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

The other districts include Brooks County, Brownsville, Donna, La Joya, Lyford, McAllen, Mission, Rio Grande City, San Perlita, Sharyland, Valley View and Web. Each district will get eight headsets, according to ROESC.

“The GEAR UP program has been great for bringing technology and training to our district,” Cristobal Vela, GEAR UP facilitator for San Isidro ISD, said in a public statement. “ClassVR provides an excellent opportunity to have students experience places that they otherwise would never be able to visit.”

VR headsets provide an immersive, 360-degree digital environment where the user can interact with what they see, as if the places, people or situations in front of them were real. The headsets include access to ClassVR’s content library, which includes images, videos and explorable scenes in various subjects, according to the company website.

For U.S. classrooms alone, Avantis has aligned with the ClassVR headsets more than 400 lessons that meet state standards in science, social studies and English language arts.

“Utilizing grant funding for ClassVR is really a great way to support equity in schools because it gives students access to cutting-edge technology and allows those who might not have had opportunities to travel, to experience different places through the power of virtual reality,” Avantis Education’s CEO Huw Williams said in a public statement, noting that districts across the country have used federal learning recovery grants to purchase headsets.