Sunday, June 17, 2018
Education

Pinellas students get laptops to curb the 'digital divide'

GULFPORT

Riminka Jordan always has found a way to get her children access to a computer, but she's never had one at home. Until now.

Jordan picked up a laptop computer last week, courtesy of the Pinellas County school system. Her family, including a 13-year-old at Azalea Middle and a 10-year-old at Gulfport Elementary, will be able to use it until the end of the school year.

Pinellas County Schools is distributing about 4,000 laptops to families with third- and fourth-graders at 36 low-income schools as part of a $4 million initiative to curb the "digital divide" between students who have access to technology at home and those who don't. District officials hope that students will use the computers to play educational games — many of which are used in their classrooms — to keep learning after the last bell rings.

"We are wanting students to extend their learning beyond the four walls of the classroom," said Pat Lusher, who oversees digital learning for the district.

Connect for Success, as the new plan has been dubbed, is part of a broader strategy to provide all students with access to educational programs online. Students district- wide can log onto about nine academic sites with a username and password. The laptops ensure that students who don't have computers at home can keep up. District officials also worked out a deal with Bright House Networks to provide discounted Internet service for families in need.

The laptops, which are being paid for with federal money, also come equipped with Microsoft Office, for use by parents or siblings.

"We're hoping that this is a family project," said Sue Lemire, one of the school district's Title I program specialists.

This is the third major effort by superintendent Mike Grego to effectively extend the school day and school year. This year, he also introduced Summer Bridge, a six-week summer school, and Promise Time, an after-school program at 28 schools, which provides an extra 60 minutes or more of instruction. All three are voluntary for students.

For struggling students to get caught up, they have to do more than a year's worth of learning in a year's time. That's tough if students don't get help outside of the traditional school day.

Lusher said the district can monitor how often students access the websites. They're hoping to see students using the programs on weekends and over holiday breaks.

The district chose to focus on third- and fourth-graders because they are the first to take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, Lemire said. The effectiveness of the program will be measured, in part, on FCAT scores.

At Gulfport, the first school to distribute the laptops, more than 100 parents, students and family members came to the training session. Other schools will hand them out during sessions scheduled until Nov. 14.

"This is about fun at home, but it's also about serious academic learning," Grego told a packed cafeteria at Gulfport.

District officials anticipated a 60 percent participation rate at each school, but got nearly 100 percent at Gulfport. Grego said more laptops can be ordered if interest continues to be high.

To take a computer home, parents have to sign a form saying that they agree to pay for the computer if it's stolen, damaged or lost. They also agree not to access "inappropriate" websites; security settings will make that more difficult.

LaShonda Dixon, who was at the session with her son, Alan Stokes, 10, said she doesn't have a computer or Internet access. She said he already knew how to use the laptop and play the games. Alan said he likes one program in particular, ST Math, which features a penguin named JiJi. Students solve math problems to help JiJi get around obstacles.

"Sometimes you'll get it wrong and he'll help you back up," Alan said of JiJi.

District officials say they hope to woo students away from noneducational video games by using fun characters like JiJi and interactive learning games that appeal to a wired generation.

"We're trying to get kids where they like to be," Lusher said.

Jordan, who was there with her children, said she was impressed by the program — although a bit nervous about trusting a 10-year-old with a laptop. But she said students need access to technology more than ever before.

"It's a great opportunity for them to offer something like that," she said.

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8846. Follow @Fitz_ly on Twitter.

Comments
AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and st...
Published: 06/16/18
School board races attract new faces

School board races attract new faces

TAMPA — When long-time Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes resigned this month from the board to run for the State House of Representatives, the decision affected more than just her seat in west Hillsborough’s District 1.It also coul...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

TAMPA — Money that the Hillsborough County School District needs to build schools and replace air conditioners might be farther from reach, thanks to a new state law and a bureaucratic process required before the voters can decide on a tax referendum...
Published: 06/14/18
University of Chicago eliminates SAT/ACT requirement

University of Chicago eliminates SAT/ACT requirement

The University of Chicago will no longer require ACT or SAT scores from U.S. students, sending a jolt through elite institutions of higher education as it becomes the first top-10 research university to join the test-optional movement.Numerous school...
Published: 06/14/18
Unhappy with superintendent’s budget wish list, Hernando School Board shuts down talk of tax increase

Unhappy with superintendent’s budget wish list, Hernando School Board shuts down talk of tax increase

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County schools Superintendent Lori Romano presented to the School Board Tuesday nearly $53 million worth of budget priorities, asking them to choose which will be funded in the upcoming school year.The board voted 3-2 later Tue...
Published: 06/13/18
UT shines the spotlight on visiting authors

UT shines the spotlight on visiting authors

The University of Tampa’s MFA program will host the June 2018 Residency Visiting Writers Lectores Series that runs from now until June 21 on the ninth floor of the Vaughn Center, 401 W Kennedy Blvd. Each reading will be held at 7:30 p.m.Each January ...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/15/18
Hernando School Board fires Superintendent Lori Romano after member says she ‘lost the public trust’

Hernando School Board fires Superintendent Lori Romano after member says she ‘lost the public trust’

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County schools Superintendent Lori Romano will step down at the end of this month following a 3-2 vote by the School Board to terminate its contract with her amid increasing concerns about her ability to lead.Romano has suffere...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/13/18
Pasco summit aims to merge school cultures while making students feel included

Pasco summit aims to merge school cultures while making students feel included

NEW PORT RICHEY — The dozen Fivay High school students and their administrators arrived at the Pasco County school district’s annual Together We Stand conference with a clear goal in mind.With hundreds of former Ridgewood High students arriving in th...
Published: 06/12/18
Central’s air rifle team prepares for national competition

Central’s air rifle team prepares for national competition

BROOKSVILLE — Historic Camp Perry is where it’s at. Located near Clinton, Ohio, the National Guard training facility is where the nation’s top shooters go to compete.Next week, some of Hernando County’s top shooters compete there in the Civilian Mark...
Published: 06/11/18
Updated: 06/14/18
An ambitious new goal for Hillsborough schools: Every child up to speed on reading by third grade

An ambitious new goal for Hillsborough schools: Every child up to speed on reading by third grade

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins has an ambitious new goal. He wants more students to be proficient in reading."I think it is the code to crack," Eakins said in an interview. He also told the School Board on Tuesday that ...
Published: 06/08/18