Hephzibah High students repair computers that are given to pupils in need

Chris Palmer was hunched over a cracked-open computer tower in a Hephzibah High School classroom, digging into the guts to find where the glitches were coming from.

He pulled out the rectangular hard drive and held it up to the light.

“(The computer) says there’s no hard drive connected, but clearly it’s right here, so I’m going to keep trying,” the Hephzibah senior said. “It could not be connected right, or it’s just a bad hard drive.”

Palmer wants to get it working perfectly, not only because his grade depends on it, but also because the computer he restores will leave his classroom and be donated to a Richmond County child in need.

Through a new pilot program, the Richmond County school system is donating 30 surplus computers to elementary school pupils who might not have been able to afford one.

The system asked a Hephzibah High technology class to restore and wipe the outdated computers, which gives the students hands-on experience and makes them beneficiaries of the process, too.

“If they didn’t have this (restoration project), they’d mainly be working in books,” said Lionel Harper, an engineering and technology instructor. “And giving someone a textbook and saying, ‘Here’s what you would do,’ is not what it’s about. You have to give them what’s going on under the hood side.”

The class recently delivered 30 repaired computers to the central office. They will be distributed to fourth-graders at Terrace Manor Elementary and fifth-graders at W.S. Hornsby and Collins K-8 schools, which all have high percentages of families living in poverty.

“I use my computer every day at home for school,” said Hephzibah senior Carl Smith while downloading In­ternet Explorer. “So I know I’d
want one if I didn’t have one growing up.”

Parents turned in applications to receive computers Friday, and the first 10 families from each school will be able to participate, said Kim Stripling, the district’s director of media and instructional technology.

Stripling, who created the program with Louis Svehla, the district’s public information officer, said the donations are not just about charity. To receive the computers, parents must complete three two-hour classes on basic computer skills, Internet safety and how to use Open­Office, a free collection of office productivity software.

“We feel like this is such a win-win situation,” Stripling said. “The parents are really going to get some top-notch training,” while students receive computers and high school students get hands-on experience.

Stripling said the district will be able to distribute several rounds of computers to pupils because it ends up with surplus computers after buying new ones using special purpose local option sales tax funds.

Svehla said that in the past, these surplus computers were sold at auction, often bringing in only several dollars each.

For the students at Hephzibah High, Harper said the benefits they receive are just as powerful as what the elementary students get.

The experience is something that could prepare them for college or a career in technology, said Harper, who has several students eyeing engineering and computer science degrees for college next year.

“They should be able to walk out of here and get a job,” he said.

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