Free laptops fill need for families, Miami-Dade schools

Thursday was a “joyful” day in the Johnson household — the family took home their first laptop, courtesy of the Miami-Dade school district.

“It’s a very important day,” said Sheldon Johnson, father of a fourth-grader at Liberty City Elementary. “Technology has finally caught up.”

The district is handing out laptops and providing internet access for free at 11 elementary schools in needy areas across Miami-Dade. All seventh- and ninth-grade students already get personal tablets for school work instead of textbooks.

At Liberty City Elementary alone, about 150 laptops were distributed Thursday.

For the Johnsons, the silver touchscreen laptop means their three children will no longer have to rely on a cell phone to connect to the internet for school work. Their mom, Iecha Johnson, was already planning how to divide computer time for each kid. They would get an hour each, she decided.

“It’s a joyful day for us today,” she said. Her husband added: “It will encourage kids to do well in school.”

The computers come pre-loaded with the same educational software students already use in school and includes programs tailored to each student’s needs, as determined by diagnostic tests.

“So if the kid is below grade level, the program will reach down and pull him up,” said Dade’s Chief Academic Officer, Maria Izquierdo.

The laptops also help serve another purpose: New curriculum standards call for students to learn computer skills in school, and the state is moving toward more online assessments that require children to master basic computer literacy.

Principal Orna Campbell said the new devices will help kids pick up those skills outside of school, and in a way that is fun.

“They were very excited about it because some of them, the only computer they have is here in school,” she said. “I think it’s going to be an opportunity for them to just connect and extend the learning into the home.”

Part of a $60 million loan is being used to pay for the laptops, according to Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

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