Updated July 31 at 5:31pm

Laptops help engage at-risk students in charter school

By Patricia Daddona
PBN Staff Writer

When 3-month-old Shawn falls asleep, his 19-year-old mother, Janna Miranda of Central Falls, plans to open the laptop her high school has provided and do some homework.

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Focus: TECHNOLOGY

Laptops help engage at-risk students in charter school

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When 3-month-old Shawn falls asleep, his 19-year-old mother, Janna Miranda of Central Falls, plans to open the laptop her high school has provided and do some homework.

“It will be great,” said Miranda one October day when she was receiving training on the equipment. “When he’s napping, I can do work. Even if I’m on the bus for an appointment, the laptop is portable, and I … can use it anywhere. Regular high school didn’t work out for me. Five days a week was difficult. The work wasn’t hard; I can do anything I put my mind to. [But] this is a new way of learning.”

“This” is the new technology being rolled out as an integral part of the blended classroom at campuses for the new public charter high school at the Sheila C. “Skip” Nowell Leadership Academy, which opened its doors on Sept. 16.

On Nov. 1, all of the 160 students at either the Providence or Central Falls campuses started using laptops provided by the school to supplement two to three days a week of classroom learning. Up until then, they were preparing for and taking NECAP tests, said Jodi Timpani, the head of school.

Nowell was conceived to support at-risk youth challenged by parenting and pregnancy issues, and uses technology to enable flexible scheduling and round-the-clock access to faculty and the curriculum, according to Deborah L. Perry, co-chairman of the school, and president and CEO of YWCA Rhode Island, a school sponsor.

“Technology was and is the key to this school,” Perry said. “It really allows students to create their own schedule and it’s built around whatever conflicts the student may have – doctor’s appointments, work. They have access to online instruction 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

The “wrap-around” school also provides child care, transportation, health, guidance and support services.

The Dell laptops may be the most visible technological component, but there is an entire system set up to support students and their teachers: state-compliant GradPoint curriculum software; Verizon data cards for online access from anywhere a cellular connection is available; a secure, managed, private online network; and a Richer Picture data hub that tracks information and allows two-way communication about everything from grades, credits and attendance to coursework, capstone projects and personal feedback.

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