Wiping the slate clean: Students repair laptops for classmates who can’t afford them

Just because a computer is too old for a school district, doesn’t mean it has lost its useful life.

Indian Prairie students spent this week transforming 5-year-old laptops into working computers for their classmates who cannot afford a computer of their own.

For the past few days, roughly two dozen students from middle and high schools in Indian Prairie School District 204 have been tearing apart, reimaging and cleaning up old computer laptops taken out of service across the district.

The yeoman’s effort being undertaken at Still Middle School in Aurora was a part of a partnership between School District 204, the Indian Prairie Educational Foundation and Naperville computer consulting firm Integral Corp.

Sun Kwok, who started Integral Corp., provided the technical expertise and organized the work flow. The foundation funded the supplies, and Indian Prairie students performed the labor.

This year, students worked on 548 laptops, bringing the total number of computers donated back to the community to 1,266 since the program was first introduced in 2009, according to Janet Buglio, District 204 executive director of communications.

The Computer Redeployment Program was able work on more computers this year beacuse they all were laptops. In previous years, Dell PCs, with separate towers, keyboards and monitors, took more time and energy to check and repair.

Foundation Executive Director Susan Rasmus said the $1,500 donated by the foundation covers the cost of products to clean the computers, lunch for the volunteers, and the flash drives and other computer supplies needed to get the computers in working order.

Other than earning service hours and getting lunch, students provided the labor for free.

Rasmus said the greatest part of this project is the collaboration between students and the business community to help bring technology to families that cannot afford to buy a computer.

With the district’s push to Bring Your Own Technology, students who don’t have a computer are at a disadvantage, according to Kwok.

He cited the Pearson’s Digits program piloted in eight-grade classrooms at Crone Middle School as an example where a computer is necessary. He said libraries close at 9 p.m., and it’s not always convenient to use a friend’s computer.

By refurbishing the laptops, more students will have access to computers and help level the playing field.

Rasmus also said what little the foundation pays doesn’t compare to how much the District 204 saves. Kwok said having the District 204 information technology team repurpose the computers diverts resources away from installing new computers and preparing for the new school year. He estimated hiring a computer company to do the same work could easily cost more than $50,000.

While it takes his company a bit of time to prepare the initial programming and tools needed to reimage the computers, the majority of the work is performed by students.

Kwok also said taxpayers paid for the computers, so it is important to redeploy them back into the community where the money came from, rather than sell them to a recycling company where the computers could go anywhere.

The process is fairly simple. Students first go through and test each laptop to see if it boots up and determine if all the keys work. Working computers go into one pile, others get labeled with whatever their problem is and set aside.

Functional computers are reimaged to their original manufacturer’s state with Microsoft Vista Business, with any updates, as well as free virus and malware protection programs. Then students remove all the District 204 stickers before polishing up the laptop to look brand new.

Broken computers are assessed to determine if they can be repaired. Those that cannot be fixed are used for parts to repair other laptops. Those returned to working order go through the reimaging and cleaning processes.

Kwok said kids get so much out of volunteering for this project. He said student volunteers not only gain valuable technology skills, but they also learn about teamwork and leadership.

Even though she graduated from Neuqua Valley in May, Purdue-bound freshman Laura Mishell opted to volunteer again like she did in 2012. Mishell, who plans to study fashion design, was a team leader in the room where the computer cleaning was being performed.

During the two-day computer project, Mishell applied the skills she gained on a recent trip to Peru through a freshman leadership program at Purdue.

“This is one way I can implement what I learned into everyday life,” she said.

Kwok said he enjoys giving back, and this project is not only fun for him, but for his two children who were among the volunteers.

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