Local schools turn Western computers into learning devices
by Jen Neville
May 19, 2014
Walk into a classroom at Pomona High School in Arvada, Colorado, and you might run across a cart full of 30-plus laptops that once belonged to Western Area Power Administration. Computers, keyboards and other technology that Western employees once used to schedule energy deliveries and monitor operations of more than 17,000 miles of transmission lines are now helping students complete assignments and class projects.
As technology and equipment is upgraded at Western, a federal agency under the Department of Energy, many of the surplus computers get a second life in schools through the U.S. General Services Administration’s Computers for Learning Program.
“Students need access to technology to prepare them for their future careers. Western is proud to serve communities in multiple ways from providing energy to empowering students for success,” said Western Administrator Mark Gabriel. “These young scholars may be the future scientists and engineers that will create new technology to power the energy frontier.”
Pomona, Woodrow Wilson enhance classroom experience
The surplus equipment helps K-12 schools, like Pomona High School and Woodrow Wilson Academy elementary in Westminster, Colorado, that are looking to make the most of their technology budgets for new equipment. “My goal is the get as much technology into kids’ hands as possible so they have the tools to be successful,” said Pomona High School Technology Coordinator Geoff Hollingsworth.
“My average cost for a brand new laptop is $500 to $600,” Hollingsworth continued. “So if I get computers from [Western] and have to put 50 bucks into fixing them, then I’m able to get more technology into more students’ hands than if I just spent my budget on brand new equipment.”
Using the donated laptops, Pomona can move to a new model for learning. “Structurally, the old model was computer labs. That was the model for a long time because a laptop with Wi-Fi capability hasn’t been there,” said Hollingsworth. “But now, by having a cart [of computers] you can roll into the classroom, you’re saving time, say 10 minutes, in a 90-minute block that can be used for more instruction.”
For Woodrow Wilson Academy, Technology Teacher Mike Empey said the availability of this free technology is unparalleled. “The kids love having access to more computers, and the teachers utilize that enthusiasm to further integrate technology into their classrooms and lesson plans,” shared Empey. “This is especially important due to the increased reliance on computers for mandated testing. The more time students get hands on with technology, the more skilled they become with it, which better prepares them for the future.”
Most recently, Woodrow Wilson Academy has used donations from Western and the CFL program to add color printing for teachers and staff in the middle school. “Without these donations our budget would have to be directed toward technology and infrastructure purchases; we use those freed funds for actual student learning and instruction, where they are needed most,” said Empey.
Donations free up tight school budgets
Since January 2013, Western has donated more than 630 computers, originally worth almost $1 million, through the program to schools and nonprofit organizations throughout our 15-state service territory. “Each time I work with IT managers from a school I hear about how they struggle with their budgets,” said Western’s Inventory Management Specialist Rob Bickler. “It makes you feel good to know the computers Western donates are being put to use and easing the struggle for equipment from shrinking budgets in our schools.”
The GSA program has given thousands of school children access to the technology and skills they will need to compete in a world where technology has become a basic platform for work—a platform that continues to evolve. “Through continued participation in the program we are able to manage the demand for IT funding more effectively and use the savings to better educate our students,” said Empey.
In addition to the benefits to our schools and students, the CFL program is good for the environment. GSA reports the program reduces landfill disposal of electronic waste. By some estimates, reusing just one computer prevents 30 lbs. of hazardous waste and 77 lbs. of solid waste from entering landfills, and prevents pollution in over 17 gallons of water and 32 tons of air.
About CFL program
GSA’s CFL program helps government agencies donate surplus computers and automatic data processing equipment to schools and some educational nonprofit organizations. The equipment is free; however, schools are responsible for shipping costs. If the computer equipment is not donated to a school it will be available for federal and state agencies. If both federal and state agencies are not requesting the computers, they will be available to the public through GSA auctions. All nonusable computer equipment is turned in for recycling.
Interested schools and educational nonprofit organizations are encouraged to find more information on this program at the Computers for Learning website. Schools participating in CFL can browse the available equipment at www.computersforlearning.gov, select what they need and pick up selected items.