At a national conference of urban leaders and educators on July 31, the Dell Computer Corp. announced it will donate 4,000 refurbished computer systems to 15 needy school districts nationwide.

The announcement at the National Urban League Conference in Washington, D.C., committed Dell to a $10 million donation of used computers, gleaned from lease buy-backs and Dell corporate offices.

Dell’s “Learn and Earn” program is based on a model successfully deployed by the Denver Public Schools (DPS). The program uses technology training and the promise of a free student-built computer to keep “at risk” middle school students in school and focused on their grades. The company has already donated 500 computer systems to Denver schools in support of this program.

DPS (K-12, enr. 70,000) is an urban district with a large minority population. Approximately 63 percent of all DPS students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, it was reported.

At a conference session led by educators, foundation leaders, and legislators, Jim Vanderslice, Dell’s president and chief operating officer, announced the launch of the Learn and Earn program.

Dell is currently developing a blueprint to help school districts and communities replicate Denver’s successful pilot program, company officials said. When the program was announced, Dell said it expected to name a dedicated project manager for Learn and Earn within two weeks.

The program, initiated by DPS two years ago, gives used computers to students identified by their district as “highest risk,” explained Bill Rodrigues, vice president of Dell’s Education and Healthcare sector.

“That means that the student may have absenteeism issues, grade problems, and/or disciplinary problems,” he said.

Criteria for establishing Dell Learn and Earn program locations include an urban population of students with a higher-than-average risk of missing classes and not graduating, a district willing to establish and support the comprehensive training program, and local community partnerships.

“We are a committed partner, but it will require a commitment from the school districts and local partners to make the project work,” said Vanderslice.

DPS initially developed the program to stem the increasing dropout rate of middle-school-age African-American and Hispanic students, it was reported.

Through the project-based technology training program students received 40 hours of classroom training on how to take apart and reassemble computers, load software, set up and run printers, upgrade hardware, diagnose and correct basic hardware problems, and use the internet.

Upon completion of the program, Denver students were given the computer they had worked on and upgraded, as well as one year of free internet access from the local internet service provider, Quest.

To remain in the program, an “at-risk” child must:

  • maintain a C average or show definite grade
  • maintain regular attendance at school, free of unexcused absences,
  • make up any missed training sessions, and
  • remain free of disciplinary problems and suspensions. DPS and Dell say Learn and Earn’s influence has been felt beyond just the classroom setting.
  • “This is the very first program that uses technology and the understanding of technology to give students a skill that they can use all the time—at school, at home, and in the workforce,” said Rodrigues.

    “Populating those homes with computers with internet access allows the parents to engage with teachers, and even take online classes,” he said. “It opens up a world of opportunity for whole families, not just students.”

    So far, Denver educators say the program has been a smashing success, involving 650 students and 90 parents in the past two years.

    “We found that students were more self-motivated to maintain the C average when they knew they’d get to keep the computers,” said Dells’ Rodrigues. “We also found that the students developed a natural mentoring system. Those who had computers at home or who knew more about computers helped those who did not.”

    “So far we’ve had students increase their GPAs [grade-point averages], we’ve seen their attendance increase, and we’ve seen discipline problems decrease in terms of referrals,” said Jenifer Federico, community program coordinator for DPS. No formal research on the program has been initiated at this time.

    Though Dell has created no formalized application process, company officials say they are currently open to any queries from interested schools located in urban settings.

    “We are in the process of setting up a web site. Right now [we have] an eMail inbox where schools can send us information if they are interested in knowing more about the program,” said Rodrigues. That eMail address, available after Aug. 15, is dell_learnandearn@dell.com.

    Here are some of Dell’s requirements for districts wishing to participate in the Learn and Earn program:

    • Financial requirements: funds for instructors, student assistants, instructor training, hardware transportation and maintenance, and materials for students.
  • Staffing requirements: a district-level coordinator, grant writer, technology director, instructors, and volunteers. Depending on the size and scope of the program, these roles may be fulfilled by one person.
  • Time requirements: six to nine months for planning and implementation, two weeks of preparation time to clean and repair computers after arrival from Dell, 40 hours of instruction for students, 40 hours of instructor training.
  • Facilities requirements: storage space for computers, classrooms that meet voltage and connection requirements, a classroom for training volunteers and instructors, security and custodial maintenance.
  • Computer resource requirements: software, mouse pads, and internet service Once Dell compiles a list of school districts interested in this program, the company plans to run the list past U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige to get his input on the school selections, according to Rodrigues.
  • At the conference session, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D.-Texas, lauded Dell for its commitment to technology education for minorities in underserved urban schools.

    “When children are taught to do something meaningful for themselves, you can eliminate the ‘hand-out’ syndrome,” she said. “Being digitally empowered, you can go anywhere. No one cares what color you are on a computer.”

    Links:

    Dell Computer Corp.
    http://www/dell.com

    Denver Public Schools
    http://www.denver.k12.co.us/

    Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson
    http://www.house.gov/ebjohnson/