Thursday, Dec. 6, 2007

Students rehab old computers for families in need

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Students in the technology club at Gov. Thomas Johnson Middle School opened their Christmas workshop a few weeks ago.

Instead of toys and games, they stocked up on donated computers. Then, they rolled up their sleeves, and armed with new software and cleaning supplies, set off to refurbish and turn the computers into functional and much-needed presents for needy families in the area.

The idea is to finish before Christmas so that students who don’t have a computer at home can use one to study during winter break, said Anthony Bollino, technology coordinator at the school.

‘‘[The computers] are not going to be something that you can go home and play Halo 3,” Bollino said. ‘‘But they will be able to do school work.”

Bollino started the project together with 15 students in grades six through eight in the school technology club. The group hopes to have 16 computers cleaned and set up with new software by the beginning of December.

When the first batch of computers is ready, Bollino’s students will write letters to financially disadvantaged families in the community and invite them to take advantage of the initiative.

The project, so far, has been successful among students who get to learn about computers while clocking in hours for community service, Bollino said.

‘‘They like ... learning how to set up a computer with an operating system and software,” he said.

In the coming weeks, Bollino’s students will be working with Chris Gregan, founder of Aptenix Open Desktop Consulting in New Market, who offered to teach students about open-source software.

Open-source software allows free access to applications equivalent to systems such as Windows XP, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Office.

It was developed as an alternative for small businesses and nonprofits that don’t have the resources to equip computers with expensive versions of these programs, Gregan said.

When he starts working with Bollino’s students, he will help them set up the 16 computers with software, which could otherwise cost up to $2,000, Gregan said.

‘‘I’ll be walking them through the basic installation of an operating system,” he said.

The special software will equip the computers with programs allowing students to write papers, make PowerPoint presentations, do basic video and photo editing and even manage a family budget, Gregan said.

With the help of the community liaison at TJ Middle, Bollino has already identified some families that may be interested in trying out the computers.

If more students and families express interest, the technology club may be able to prepare a few more computers, Bollino said.

‘‘We do serve many families that are economically disadvantaged,” Bollino said.

To find out more about the initiative, contact Anthony Bollino at Gov. Thomas Johnson Middle School at 240-236-4900.