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New Year, New Challenges For Miami-Dade Students

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MIAMI (CBS4) – Parents across South Florida reunited with their children Monday afternoon, the first day of school done.

Celia Rundlet smiled as her parents picked her up at the Primary Learning Center in Downtown Miami. When asked how her day went she responded “Good.”

When asked if she took a nap, “I just rested,” she replied.

The four year old is being a bit coy about her first day at school. She actually barely made it.

“We got in from our vacation last night at 1:30 a.m. So she got about six hours of sleep,” said her dad Alex Rundlet. “She got dressed in the car in the parking lot. We lost our luggage last night.”

The district reported no problems with the 1,300 buses rolling out bright and early, drivers eager to get back to work.

Some parents and students, however, had the first day jitters.

“I’m nervous because I’m going into fifth grade now,” Daniela Hernandez said.

Jacqueline Cheli’s child started kindergarten and seemed more nervous than her son.

“I feel like it’s my first day!” she said.

Despite the nerves, countywide the first day appeared to go smoothly. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, running on no sleep, was a happy guy.

“Everything I wanted to see on the first day I saw. So I give it an A+ today,” said Carvalho.

When asked how many more days left in the school year he was quick to respond “179 and counting.”

The first day was actually historic. Middle schools countywide rolled out the new iPrep program; a high tech, interactive and very different approach to teaching.

“We actually trademarked the iPrep brand so we are willing to have discussions with others across the country in terms of replicating it,” Carvalho explained. “This is the way students live. It’s how they interact with each other. It’s how they access the information. Why not create a school that actually replicates a lifestyle.”

Students at South Miami Middle were excited to try it out.

“You guys are the pioneers of this school,” Leonor Fonseca, the school’s 16 year veteran math teacher, told the her students.

From the moment you step inside the iPrep classroom you can tell it’s different. They are big, colorful and lined with funky seats. Every child has a laptop or iPad. It really is a new frontier of sorts for math class.

“We are hoping that with the technology that number one they’ll remember and number two they’ll enjoy doing it. So it will be like one person likes it and it will be the domino effect,” Fonseca said.

It’s already working. Seventh grader Carolyn Pstana said it was a cool class.

“Some of my friends don’t have iPrep and they are asking me to tell them about it after school or call me up.” Pstana said.

Remember this is math class.

Deja Vaughn, a transfer was really surprised at how different the class was.

“At my old school we sat there and read a book the entire class. I felt like I was sitting there taking down information just to pass a test and this class I feel like I’m going to learn something in my life,” Vaughn said.

Fonseca is trying to adjust to the classroom as well. They have had technology lessons but she expects the learning to be a mutual thing. She’ll teach them math. They’ll teach her new technology.

“The norm has always been a teacher always talking and telling them what to do. Now we are letting them discover. And we are letting them understand and letting them find where they need to be,” said Fonseca.

The students will receive their assignments via the internet and they have the whole week to get it done. Homework is posted via a social network. Want to listen to music while you do it? No problem. Pstana, the seventh grader, bragged “Yeah it’s like a little mini-college experience.”

The iPrep program launches this week in every middle school in Miami-Dade County. Entry is by application only because the program isn’t cheap- $32 million dollars paid for with a federal grant that Carvalho personally pleaded to get. After seeing it in motion at a handful of schools Monday, Carvalho was intent on expansion.

“All that is in my mind is how many more can I create going into next year. If it’s good for some, it’s got to be good for everyone,” said Carvalho who hinted that Social Studies may be next.

As the program expands students will have a lot more responsibility. They’ll also lose the ability to blame the dog for eating their homework.

Vaughn quickly thought of a new excuse, “Maybe I can say my brother slobbered on the computer?”

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