Program gives laptops to city students

Sixth-graders in Roberto Clemente middle school are taking part in a pilot program that provides students with laptop computers to use in the classroom, as well as to take home. The program was initiated in the 2000-2001 school year in New Haven middle schools Roberto Clemente and Troupe Magnet Academy of Science.

The program — a joint initiative funded by Empower New Haven, the William Graustein Foundation, and the Greater New Haven School Board — cost over $300,000. The money went toward the purchase of Toshiba Satellite laptop computers.

Empower New Haven, which is responsible for the administration of $100 million in federal housing grants over the next 10 years as part of New Haven’s designation as an “Empowerment Zone,” has provided the largest amount of funding for the project. The Board of Education has allocated $100,000 for the project.

But some city leaders have questioned the program. Concerns have recently been raised about Empower New Haven’s ability to effectively spend the Empowerment Zone grants on the six neighborhoods designated to receive the money: Hill, Fair Haven, Newhallville, Dwight, Dixwell, and West Rock. In response, the New Haven Board of Aldermen passed an amendment in October requiring Empower New Haven to report its progress to the city this past November.

Sherri Killins, president and CEO of Empower New Haven, said the laptop project is underway at the two city middle schools.

“I believe it’s implemented now,” Killins said.

Killins gave no definite plans for the future of the program and said Empower New Haven is monitoring the program. She added that the role of Empower New Haven is to work with the school system in further enhancing and advancing the laptop pilot program.

At Roberto Clemente, approximately 50 fifth-graders were given laptop computers last year. These same students are now using them this year as sixth graders.

Leroy Williams, principal of Roberto Clemente middle school, said the program has thus far been effective.

“We’re not starting from scratch,” Williams said. “The earlier [the students] get a computer, the better they will be.”

Williams said a child working with a computer will have an advantage over a child that does not have access to one. He added that his students are already benefiting from the computers. The computers are equipped with a program called “Compass Learning” that is being used to prepare students for the Connecticut Mastery Test, an achievement test given to Connecticut public school students in grades four, six and eight.

Williams said about two years will be needed to effectively gauge to what extent the program helps students taking the achievement test, since data on the test will not be available until then.

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