April marks the height of college admissions, and this year’s application process was more competitive than ever, making it increasingly challenging for students to “stand out” during the admissions process. Many are putting additional emphasis on the college essay as a way to differentiate themselves beyond GPA and SAT scores.

But those here at Calvin Coolidge are not doing it through the traditional essay consultants that more affluent schools and students hire. Through a unique partnership with Howard University, Verizon Wireless, and Samsung, they benefit from free instruction in college-essay writing–part of a demonstration project to show how wireless technology can increase student engagement and help students in under-served communities prepare for college and careers.

When onboard the bus, students eagerly snatch up wireless tablets and go to work with the volunteer tutors on lessons in college-essay writing that can include reviewing samples and elements of strong writing, brainstorming ideas for their personal statements, and practicing drafting responses to different essay prompts. Working with the tutors has really instilled a culture that encourages all of our students to believe that college is attainable.

Crafting the perfect essay can be challenging though and takes a substantial amount of work. Ugonna Onyeukwu, now a senior at Calvin Coolidge, said “before I went on the Mobile Learning Lab, I was lost and had no focus on my personal statement. It is hard to put yourself in a box of 500 words or so. The tutor on the bus helped me focus my story and set it up. The technology allowed me to type it up right there on the spot. So, I came on the bus with nothing and left with quality rough draft.”

(Next page: Success stories and acceptance rates)