Soldiers get pupils connected

Richmond County has called in the troops to assist the school system's understaffed technology department.

Computers have been sitting in unopened boxes since August. At Langford Middle School alone, $90,000 in computers and other equipment intended for classroom instruction remains unpacked.

Until last week, the same was true for computers that had stacked up at Freedom Park Elementary School and A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet High School.

Now, at the request of Superintendent Dana Bedden, Fort Gordon soldiers have volunteered to install the computers as a community service project, easing the burden on the schools' six technology department employees.

"For my office to do it alone, it would have taken my entire team," said Carol Taylor, the school system's director of educational media and technology.

"It would have been very difficult."

On Saturday morning, a team of 19 soldiers installed about 80 computers, Mrs. Taylor said.

If paid contractors had performed the same work, it would have cost the school system $3,500.

Instead, it only cost the price of the soldiers' lunch.

A sales tax oversight committee approved the purchase of the computers, but Bill Lockett, who presides over the committee, said he did not know that they were stacked up somewhere, unused.

He said he reacted with "irritation and frustration" a few weeks ago after stumbling upon the stacks of boxes.

"It was just a little mind boggling," he said.

Mr. Lockett commended the partnership with Fort Gordon and is confident it will continue.

About 800 new computers, which were approved by his committee, are expected to be delivered by the end of the year.

Fort Gordon's soldiers benefit from the partnership, too. They are enrolled in computer classes at the installation and are required to perform community service, Mrs. Taylor said.

"It's a win-win," she said. "We need some help, and they need to earn some hours for community service."

The soldiers have worked at Freedom Park and A.R. Johnson, and they are making plans to work at Langford Middle School.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.