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Detroit Students Get New Laptops to Connect at Home

Thousands of Detroit students have now received new laptops complete with Internet connections, and the students will get to keep the devices as part of an effort to bridge the city’s digital divide.

by John Wisely, Detroit Free Press / July 13, 2020

(TNS) — One of the first things that De'Antre Mitchell noticed about his new tablet-style laptop computer from school was that it was really his.

"I figured we'd get some type of electronic device," said De'Antre, 17, of Detroit. "I didn't know we were going to be able to take it home and own it."

Mitchell will be a senior at Detroit Central High School this fall. He plans to become an electrician and an entrepreneur, using his skills to rehab homes and sell them for a profit.

He's one of thousands of students in the Detroit Public Schools Community District who have received a new laptop, complete with internet connections. The students do get to keep the devices — iView computers with 10.1-inch touchscreens and detachable keyboards. They run Windows 10 software with a suite of programs, including Microsoft Teams, which allows teleconferencing and online collaboration.

The machines were paid for as part of the Connected Futures Program, an effort launched in April to bridge the digital divide in Detroit, a city where about 47% of kids live in poverty, according to U.S. Census data. 

DTE Energy, Quicken Loans, General Motors and the Skillman and Kellogg foundations led a fundraising campaign that raised $23 million in less than a month. The idea was to get Detroit students connected to online learning while schools were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve achieved a significant milestone in our effort to bridge the digital divide impacting our city’s future leaders,” said Jerry Norcia, president and chief executive officer, DTE Energy. “This funding will allow us to continue to drive positive change — which will be remembered as a turning point in Detroit’s history. I’m grateful for the efforts of DPSCD and our coalition of businesses and philanthropic organizations in making it possible.” 

Officials said they were beginning with Detroit public schools but hoped to eventually expand it to other Detroit students who attend charter schools.

School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said at the time that the machines would facilitate online learning during the shutdown, but they also will change the district permanently, leading to fewer textbooks, workbooks and lighter backpacks. Mayor Mike Duggan heralded the plan as a chance to get all Detroiters connected to the internet, even allowing for things like parents who are struggling to re-enter the work force to apply online for jobs and benefits.

Vitti said this week in a statement that the rollout seemed to be going well. De'Antre picked up his device earlier this month at his school after answering an email questionnaire from the school district toensure eligibility. He said was in and out of the building in a matter of minutes.

Because of security concerns, the district didn't publicly say when and where the devices would be distributed. Instead, it reached out to students individually with pickup details.

"We started the deployment process with our high schools so graduating seniors can pick up their devices before leaving for college or entering the workplace," Vitti said. "We also started with high schools so seniors who needed to attend summer school to graduate have a device and internet access to complete courses."

One senior who got one was Assiana Franklin, a salutatorian at East English Village High School who will attend Eastern Michigan University in the fall. 

"It's really fast and I can carry it with me wherever I go," she said. "It's really cute."

Franklin had an older model laptop that was too heavy to lug around most of the time. It got slower with age and eventually couldn't keep up. Still, she was happy to have something when many of her classmates weren't connected. 

"Most kids don't have access to the internet or they don't have computers," she said. "Most families can't afford this. You're giving them hope for the future."

©2020 the Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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