School program makes use of new skills, old computers


What is especially significant is that the students involved in the refurbishment-and-donation program sounded genuinely interested in using their knowledge to help others. The program is, after all, about giving.

A model program

The program started during the 2000-2001 school year when Chuck Drake, the school’s new IT coordinator, introduced the concept of computer refurbishment to students enrolled in networking classes. Teachers formalized the program, making it part of the curriculum, and their students excelled.

The school’s proximity to Washington, D.C. made it easy to find free computers. Many federal agencies were glad to unload their old computers someplace that could use them. By the 2011-2012 school year, Forest Park was receiving laptops by the truckload. Now teachers say the most challenging aspect is finding space to store the donations. The rewards for the community are endless.

“We’ve been able to save a whole lot of dollars for schools and families,” Drake said. They have also delivered internet access to people who lacked it.

All the computers are wiped clean and rebuilt from scratch. If the hard drive is missing, a new one is installed. Thanks to corporate-giving programs from Microsoft and Comcast and to open-source software programs that are free to download and use, the school can equip each computer with the following:

  • Microsoft XP operating system
  • LibreOffice, a free suite of office tools for writing, drawing diagrams, and making calculations
  • GIMP, a free graphics program
  • An antivirus program
  • Internet Essentials, a low-cost internet-service provider sponsored by Comcast

With support from the state, Forest Park High School administrators helped launch the program in 10 other schools. They say while Forest Park has advantages, such as high-quality IT coursework, the refurbishment program can be replicated in classrooms and in extracurricular programs in schools around the country.

Forest Park students, meanwhile, are already thinking of ways to make that happen more easily. “We need to come up with a training brochure,” said Stallknecht. “It is not that complicated. It is more about training someone to teach it.” He suggested that as long as a school can hire someone who knows about computers and knows how to teach, it could run the program. Used computers are easy to find.

With this in mind, the possibilities for teaching technology and bridging the digital divide seem increasingly infinite.

Patti Mohr is a journalist working on a book about open-source technology in schools. She can be contacted through her home page at www.patriciamohr.com or by eMail at mohrwriting@gmail.com.

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