Three students from Robeson High School help retrieve computers donated by Penn. (Photo: Payne Schroeder)
Saltz said that he largely does the refurbishing himself. The District is not involved.
“It takes a lot of time. It’s keeping everything together with spit and duct tape.”
Saltz said that his 11th-grade English classroom “looks awful” with a patchwork of wiring, “but it is what it is.”
MaryBeth Hertz, a computer teacher at Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber, said that when she worked as an IT coordinator for the Alliance for Progress Charter School about two years ago, she got a donation of about 30 desktops. That donation included “a box of tangled cords and mice” and an independent contractor to provide networking and support technology. Hertz said that she made the system last for a year until they got a grant for new computers.
“It was hours and hours of time, plus inventory and labeling, [so] you need to have people on the staff to deal with it – or don’t take” the equipment, Hertz said.
Abby Thaker, development director for the Mount Airy Schools Coalition, said a recent contribution of smartboards by the private Penn Charter School to Henry School did not work out.
“The installation of a smartboard is a much bigger deal than installation of a desktop,” she said. After consulting with Westall, Thaker said that the school declined the donation.
Making a start
The District has, however, taken steps to make donating goods and services easier, including technology.
“We have processes and procedures that can seem off-putting,” said Vicki Ellis, executive director of the District’s Office of Strategic Partnerships.
“We try to make it easier for the schools and donors.”
Last summer, the Office of Strategic Partnerships launched a new website, philaosp.weebly.com, to match schools and potential donors with all types of goods and services.
For computers, Deruiter says there is no shortage of potential donors. PCF now has about 7,500 used computers in a newly rented warehouse space in East Falls from donors including Health Partners, Comcast, Temple University, and the University of Pennsylvania.
For each classroom at Emlen, scrubbing the hard drives and refurbishing three computers cost about $300. That doesn’t count the labor time for ongoing maintenance.
PCF put the Linux operating system on each computer, “so they’re neither Mac nor Windows,” Deruiter said. “It’s a fairly bare-bones system, which makes the old equipment run faster. It’s pretty lean and mean,” allowing students to run such widely used programs as Lexia Learning and First in Math.
“Our problem is finding the schools and raising the money,” he said. “Some schools don’t have power in the classrooms, no Internet. They don’t have outlets in the room, or in the locations where we want. It’s ridiculous.”
He credits the District with alleviating some of the problems by establishing a Google education account for every child, “so they have access to email and Google Drive” through the cloud.
This lessens the load on aging servers that must be maintained in individual buildings. But students must have computers to use the accounts, and teachers and parents need to know that they’re available.
Giving students laptops presents other issues, Deruiter said. Many don’t have Internet access at home – he has connected several homes – and parents have to be sure the computers are used for school, not as “glorified Game Boys.”
Although Deruiter is optimistic that the pilot at Emlen can be a success at more schools, he said that the unmet need is so great that “even if it trickles down, it’s going to be a long time.”
This article will appear in the Notebook's forthcoming print issue focusing on education technology, due out next week.