Fulton begins giving students laptops, tablets

Fulton County school system leaders plan to hand out close to 60,000 mobile devices like tablets or small laptops for students to take home in an effort to boost classroom learning.

The district, which wants to equip all middle and high school students with the technology by 2017, handed out the first devices for the start of this school year to 460 eighth-graders at Autrey Mill Middle School, according to Fulton officials.

Other schools are expected to get the devices throughout the year, once they have the necessary technology updates and infrastructure to support the devices. Students and teachers are also being trained in how to use the technology to improve academic achievement. Some 6,000 devices will be handed out to teachers as well.

“What we’re doing with the devices is to leverage technology, to create better situations for students and teachers,” said Rob Anderson, deputy superintendent of academics for Fulton schools.

For students in kindergarten through fifth grade, more devices will be put in classrooms. Fulton leaders have said they would like all elementary students to have access to the devices eventually, and be able to bring them home.

When Fulton school officials announced the technology rollout last year – considered the most expansive effort yet by a Georgia school district to make technology available to students — the projected cost for the devices was nearly $28.3 million. That money is expected to come from SPLOST (special-purpose local option sales tax) funds, according to Fulton officials.

Not every student has a computer at home, and Fulton leaders believe giving all children mobile devices will level the playing field. They’re working on getting as many kids connected to the Internet at home as possible, and point out that kids can also get online at the public library and other areas. They also say that since standardized tests will be given online more in the next few years, students need to be adept in learning and test-taking via a computerized device.

They say they’ve spent the past two years training teachers how to use the devices to best augment learning in the classroom. The district says it also has software that can track where the devices are at all times, guarding against theft.

The Fulton school system is the fourth-largest school system in Georgia. Approximately 96,000 students attend 101 schools.