From left, Christopher Carroll (AT&T), Carrie Neill (National PTA), Amy Hamilton (FRES PTA), Maryland Del. Pam Guzzone, Matthew McGhie (FRES parent) and Ryan Murphy (FRES parent) were featured speakers at Forest Ridge Elementary School’s Ready, Tech, Go! Workshop in June.

Parents of Forest Ridge Elementary School students in Howard County now have access to new tools, programs, and technology that promote digital safety and help bridge the digital divide. That’s because of a partnership between the school, the National PTA, and AT&T.

FRES is among 36 nationwide PTAs and elementary schools selected to participate in a new Ready, Tech, Go! workshop series developed as part of the National PTA’s PTA Connected initiative and AT&T’s Connected Learning initiative. 

Conducted in June, the workshop introduced FRES families to tips, tools, and resources to navigate aspects of screen readiness, digital safety, and creating a healthy digital home.

Christopher Carroll, regional director of External and Legislative Affairs for AT&T Services, said access to connectivity, technology, and digital skills needed to compete in the digital first world isn’t always easy for under-resourced families in the United States.

“AT&T has made a $2 billion commitment to address the digital divide through our low-cost broadband service offerings, participation in the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, and charitable contributions through our Connected Learning initiative over the next two years,” he said.

The goal is to provide support for 1 million people in need of digital resources through AT&T connected partnerships by 2025, Carroll said.

Working with nonprofits, “We’re providing free digital literacy, digital safety, and digital parenting resources for our ScreenReady initiative,” he explained. “We’ve also launched the Achievery, created by AT&T, which is a free digital learning platform designed to engage K-12 students in online learning through entertaining and inspiring pop culture content paired with lessons and learning activities.”

Hands on

According to Carrie Neill, chair of the National PTA’s Leadership Committee, studies and statistics show a need for parents to be more informed about their children’s digital lives.

A 2020 Pew Research Center study found that only 17% of children ages 9-11 owned a smartphone, she said.

Additionally, a 2021 Common Sense Media survey indicated that children 8-12 spend approximately 5 1/2 hours per day on entertainment or screen media, she said, while the Pew Research Center study found that 75% of parents of children ages 5-11 regularly check on the websites their kids visit.

“There are a lot of questions, such as how do parents determine if a child is screen ready, and how do you get children to that point,” Neill said. “There’s no magical age, and each child is different. Tools like AT&T’s ScreenReady interactive survey help parents make that determination.”

Maryland Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary attested to the need for parental vigilance when children begin spending time online.

“My 11-year-old son was obsessed with his new phone and started using an app called Discord that I had never heard of,” she said. “I had to delete it because of things that were being said (in the discussions). It’s important to learn how to protect your children, because they’re going to know (new technology) before we do.”

Matthew McGhie, a Forest Ridge Elementary parent, said the National PTA’s “The Smart Talk” website enables parents and children to work together to create personalized rules for privacy settings, screen time, apps, downloads, texting, phone calls, and social media use.

“It’s available in both English and Spanish and was designed to be relevant and inclusive to families with different beliefs and circumstances,” he said.

Another platform, the Family Media Plan Tool developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics in collaboration with AT&T, is also available in English or Spanish for use on smartphones, laptops or home computers.

“Families can register for free at and create a customized family media plan to set priorities consistent with your values and lifestyles,” McGhie said.

The right tools

Staying safe online is only part of the equation. There’s also a question of access, particularly in low-income communities.

“AT&T is committed to helping narrow the homework gap by investing in digital inclusion, literacy, and learning solutions to help students and their parents succeed,” Carroll said. “We work with nonprofits to expand access to computers and devices for under-resourced families.”

Atterbeary said legislators must also continue to address the digital divide from Annapolis.

“This came to the forefront during the pandemic when families had to drive to Starbucks or other local businesses to connect to be on Zoom with teachers,” she said.

FRES PTA Vice President Amy Hamilton said invitations to host Ready, Tech, Go! workshops were extended to PTAs that received grants to facilitate family conversations centered around the National PTA’s The Smart Talk tool.

“We’re only working with 36 schools nationally with this workshop program, but it’s going to be expanding,” Neill said. “We’re just getting our feet wet now, but we know that it’s working and it’s something that families need.”

Forest Ridge was a good candidate school for the program, Carroll said.

“We were looking for communities with a lot of diversity where the National PTA has a strong presence and there is a strong PTA at the school,” he said. “Forest Ridge presented a great opportunity for partnership. The intention now is to let this program grow organically: we want to understand what the need is, and how we can help.”