In a world that is rapidly going digital, some folks have unfortunately been left behind — including kids.
Having a means of getting online is all but a requirement nowadays, and with many aspects of schooling now relying on students being able to do homework digitally, not having a computer can be a tremendous hinderance.
Luckily for middle-school students throughout Orange County, help has arrived in the form of free laptops that were distributed by Orange County Public Schools.
On Thursday, Aug. 2, Maitland Middle School students and their parents arrived at the school’s library to fill out paperwork and receive their own laptops.
The sight of seeing students sit around the library’s tables and log on for the first time was one that filled Principal Andrew Leftakis with happiness.
“I think the first word that comes to my mind is just ‘opportunity,’” Leftakis said. “It just allows student to have more of an opportunity to be enriched, to receive addition support, and to collaborate on a global level. It just gives students more of an opportunity to experience all that’s within the world.”
The laptops that each of the school’s 800 students received is all a small part of the County’s LaunchEd 1:1 digital device initiative, which seeks to bring computers to all the county’s 135,000 middle- and high-school students in OCPS’ 75 schools.
The initiative also will include handing out laptops to staff at the schools, as well.
With computers now in hand, students can fully participate in the LaunchED digital learning program the county utilizes in its classrooms. In addition, familiarity with the technology helps set up students for future success.
“The use of laptop computers teaches students cloud computing, digital media, and content-management systems, as well as how to create a responsible digital footprint,” OCPS officials said in a statement. “Being computer literate ensures students graduate college and career ready.”
Along with the laptops being handed out to students, the county also is helping by offering hotspot devices so kids who do not have internet access can utilize their laptops at home.
As a part of a partnership with T-Mobile, OCPS has secured 22,400 hotspot devices — 15,000 for high-school students and 7,400 for middle-school students.
With access to the web, district officials hope the effort will help eliminate what is known as the “homework gap” — a term that refers to the difficulty that students have when they can not complete their homework because of the lack of internet access.
The process itself of getting kids these hotspots is rather simple, Leftakis said.
“Kid’s have to qualify for it, but we survey all kids the previous year — it’s just a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ survey, and if they need, one we provide it,” Leftakis said. “This year, we’ll provide 80 hotspots initially — if additional kids come and say they need a hotspot, we will get them one.”
Although the addition of new laptops and hotspots for students is a huge step forward for kids in Orange County Schools, the ultimate goal is to give 100% of the student population — more than 207,000 students — access to computers and the internet by 2021.
The opportunities to help further the education of students more effectively has teachers ready for the new year, Leftakis said.
“We have been planning for two years now, so we know it’s been coming,” he said. “They’re excited to use the Canvas learning platform — it’s where all their classes are housed and located, and they get to upload content and put tutorial videos and put enrichment opportunities — it’s just a very cool program.”