Children in Nicaragua, Peru and Rwanda have received their own computers through One Laptop Per Child, which aims to empower kids through education and technology.
Now the Miami-based nonprofit has turned to its own back yard.
On Friday in Liberty City, more than 500 students at Holmes Elementary received their very own, green-and-white laptops. Students can use them in class and take them home. The idea is that their curiosity will spark learning in new ways.
“With this vehicle, [a student’s] not afraid to explore, he’s not afraid to make mistakes,” explained Rodrigo Arboleda, chairman and CEO of the OLPC Association in Miami. The group has a sister foundation in Cambridge, Mass.
“The idea is to induce the children to become innovators, to become creative inventors and to share.”
The laptops themselves were a big hit at Holmes Elementary.
As officials handed out the machines, students quickly started experimenting with built-in videos and cameras. “When I’m playing, I can learn better,” said first-grader Adrianna Smith. Her fingers, with pink and blue nail polish, punched the squishy neon green keyboard. Like the rest, her laptop had a handwritten tag with her name.
The handout in Miami marks the first major distribution by OLPC in the United States. Since it launched in 2006, it has given laptops to some two million children in more than 40 countries, the majority in Latin America.
The XO laptops, manufactured in Shanghai and priced at about $200, are specially designed for children. They are kid-sized, lighter than a lunchbox, rugged with a clutch handle. They are equipped with open-source software and designed for constant connectivity — so that students and teachers can work together.
Fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Mojica plans to weave the technology into her class, for example online science research and math games. “This is going to greatly help. Before, technology was limited,” she said.
Her students were enthralled Friday. “It’s amazing,” said Daniel Rawls, 12, who said he doesn’t have a computer at home. On his screen, a map of little X figures represented all his classmates who were plugged in. He knows he can do homework on the machine. But his favorite part so far: the maze game. (A proud “Baby Bull ” of nearby Northwestern Senior High, he also likes to play football.)
The laptop giveaway follows other recent aggressive moves to bridge the digital divide in South Florida.
Cable provider Comcast launched a program last year to offer discount Internet and low-priced computers for families whose children qualify for the National Free Lunch program. Miami-Dade County Public Schools is trying to make all its schools wireless through fundraising and a matching federal grant. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the district has raised $4.5 million of its $7 million goal, which could bring 10 times that in federal dollars.
In the county’s neediest neighborhoods, 72 percent of families didn’t have Internet service at home in 2008, when the school district last did a survey of its nearly 350,000 students.
“This is about building a dream; this is about building a better Miami,” he said.
The OLPC initiative, however, is not without its critics. Some point out the computers haven’t been manufactured at the promised $100. Others contend that impoverished children have urgent basic needs — like enough food to eat.
At Holmes Elementary, the OLPC will offer training for parents, teachers and students on how to use the computers and will develop a curriculum to aid learning.
Principal Atunya Walker said she’s excited for her students. “There are no limits. There are no excuses. They have to tools necessary to succeed,” she said.
The school has worked hard to lift its state-issued grade to a C and keep it there after it got a red letter F from the state in 2008. Carvalho said that solid C is inches away from a B.
Holmes faced the threat of closure last year for failing to raise its scores enough under state rules. The State Board of Education granted the school a waiver, along with Miami Central and Miami Edison high schools.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation financed the laptops with $245,000. The foundation chose Holmes for the laptop program in part because the school is working with Teach for America, whose expansion in Miami-Dade is funded by the Knight Foundation.
“It’s very fertile ground for bringing in this technology,” said Jorge Martinez, the director of information systems. “You’re giving it to the kids and then they go home and share it with their family.”
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.