Liberty City Elementary School is the kind of place where no matter how hard teachers and students try, the crushing obstacle of poverty is extremely difficult to overcome.
Most, if not all, of the kids there had no computers at home, no internet access, until the Miami-Dade School District launched the “Jumpstart: Connect@Home” project last October.
The District gave out free laptops to every child in grades 3 through 5. That’s 135 computers, plus “Hotspot” devices to provide connectivity.
"I've seen tremendous improvement in their overall fluency in math," said Tyra Griffin, who teaches third grade.
For the first time, her students have something most students take for granted: computers and internet access at home.
“It actually bridges that digital divide between them, not having computers, having internet access at home, this may have put computers into the hands of students who otherwise never had them,” Griffin said.
Results of this experiment have already been dramatic, according to educators and parents.
"We see, like, a fire has been lit under them, they enjoy the technology so it’s making learning fun for them,” said Principal Orna Campbell-Dumeus.
The effort at Liberty City Elementary is part of the district’s Digital Convergence Project. It’s already distributed 60,000 laptops and tablets to various schools, and the goal is to make sure, eventually, that every child who needs a computer but whose family cannot afford one gets one.
"I also see growth in the parental involvement component, which was kind of shocking, and the parents enjoy that time with their children,” Campbell-Dumeus added.
Phyllis Richburg said that’s absolutely true. She’s raising her grandson, a third grader who she says rarely separates from his new laptop.
"Having the computer home, in the house, it makes him want to learn, to get on the computer,” Richburg said. "I think he will excel in reading and his math due to the computer."
There’s always a place for traditional books and traditional teaching, but there’s nothing like the feeling of catching up for kids who’ve been technologically deprived.
"It motivates them, yeah, it motivates them to do better, I think his future is much brighter now,” said Richburg.