Computers for all: East Lake, Shepherd students gifted with Chromebooks

photo Marcus Goree, left, and Charlie Bell discover one of the new Public Education Foundation computers presented to students at East Lake Elementary School on Friday. Behind them, from left, are Christa Payne, vice president of the PEF, Jim Hill, board chairman of PEF, and Karen Hollis, of PEF elementary operations.

Children at East Lake Elementary School knew something was up Friday morning when as community members, media and parents flooded their building.

Third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students filed into the auditorium and sat on the floor, all chatting excitedly. Once Principal Joyce Lancaster took to the podium on stage, they fell silent.

"I don't think I've ever heard it this quiet," she said with a laugh.

Lancaster, as well as School Superintendent Rick Smith and Public Education Foundation President Dan Challener, explained to the students that the school had applied for grant money. They explained that, while applying, they kept thinking about how technology is so important to learning.

Challener, who wore a tie covered in smileys, said the officials thought, "What would happen if all the fifth-graders could use laptops?"

On the floor, children began smiling and whispering, growing more excited as he went on to say, "What if all third-, fourth- and fifth-graders had laptops?"

Lancaster took the podium again, and asked, "Are you ready?"

"Yeah!" they all screamed in response.

"Let's see what's behind that door," she said.

Kids cheered as Chromebooks were wheeled out from backstage. On stage, the curtains were drawn back to reveal all 186 Chromebooks that East Lake had purchased using a $50,000 grant from the Leonore Annenberg School Fund for children.

Earlier Friday, students at Bess T. Shepherd Elementary had turned out for the unveiling of 169 Chromebooks using another $50,000 grant.

Lancaster said when the school applied for the grant, she knew it needed to be spent on something to bring their students into the 21st century. She said most of the students in the inner-city school don't have computers at home.

"Children, when they use technology, they're so excited," she said. "We know technology is a big piece wherever you go, so we said, 'Why not Chromebooks for our students?'"

Teachers at both schools have been receiving training in preparation for the devices. Chromebooks are lower-cost laptops that are designed to be used while connected to the Internet. Rather than storing programs and data on the machine, users access information in "the cloud."

And although the computers at both schools will be staying on campus, Smith hinted that perhaps they'll try to get the laptops into students' homes.

photo Fourth grade students Jefferyonna Alford, center, smiles after receiving an new computer Friday at East Lake Elementary School. Avdiel Vicente, left, and Cansas Shaver, right, enjoy holding the new equipment.

"This is a beginning here that doesn't need to stop," he said.

The two schools met all of the criteria, including at least an 85 percent poverty rate in their zones. PEF and the school district reviewed those who applied, and the winning schools got to choose what to do with the grant money.

District 7 City Councilman Chris Anderson came to the East Lake announcement and said it was an uplifting experience for his district.

"There's a potential here that some people don't recognize, but I recognize it," he said. "I hope it'll only grow from here."

After the announcement, administrators asked children to come forward and say what they thought about the announcement.

One girl said, "I'm excited because now I have a computer to help me work."

The administrator asked her if she had a computer to use at home.

"No," she said. Then, she smiled and looked up, adding, "But now I do."

Contact staff writer Hannah Smith at or 423-757-6731.