Computerworld Honors 2013: Government-funded program gets technology to students

Computerworld Honors 2013: Government-funded program gets technology to students

Miguel Orta relied on the computers at his local library to do his homework, but because the library had a two-hour time limit, Miguel often couldn't finish his assignments.

So his mother, Myriam Orta, turned to a new program for help: Learn Ideas, Navigate Knowledge (LINK). The program provided Miguel with a low-cost computer, and he's now able to download material to complete his assignments. He can also access a student portal that engages him with customized educational software, and his mother regularly logs onto a parent portal to check Miguel's grades, assignments and attendance.

The School Board of Miami-Dade County in Florida devised LINK to help families like the Ortas. The program places technology and basic computer training within the reach of low-income households facing significant disadvantages today without digital literacy, which includes a disproportionate number of minority group members.

Funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, LINK provides computers for $25 to participating families. Each computer comes with a tutorial video in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole, along with antivirus and word processing software. LINK also works with other organizations to provide families with free digital literacy training in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole. The training workshops cover computer basics and how to use the Internet. They also teach families how to use the district's parent and student portals, which are valuable online educational resources that extend learning beyond the school day and help parents monitor their children's academic progress.

Started in 2010, LINK first provided refurbished desktop computers to elementary and middle school pupils and refurbished netbooks to high school students. By the program's second year, all students received refurbished netbooks. Now all students receive new netbooks, most of which are Wi-Fi enabled. LINK also broadened its focus during the 2012-2013 school year to support the bring-your-own-device trend by equipping all high schools with wireless Internet connections.

To participate in the program, students within the district must be enrolled in the free or reduced-price lunch program. As of January 2013, LINK has provided low-cost computers to more than 7,400 elementary, middle school and high school students and has offered discounted Internet service to more than 3,000 households.

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