Rebooting computers for educational uses Donations: A state program takes used equipment from government agencies and private firms to donate to schools and other groups.

June 15, 1998|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

Maryland officials have begun a new program to recycle computers that government agencies and private businesses no longer want.

The program, called Operation Reboot, distributes the cast-off computer equipment to schools and service organizations.

Operation Reboot is the outgrowth of another state program, Computers For Schools, which was set up in 1985 to transfer unwanted state and federal government computers to Maryland's classrooms.

Under Operation Reboot, the state Department of Education seeks donations of computers, software, modems and other equipment from the private sector and federal and state agencies. The Department of General Services houses the equipment and helps reprogram donated computers to make them suitable for classroom use. The National Cristina Foundation, a Connecticut-based organization, helps retool donated equipment.

"We realized that while transferring machines was important, we had to take another step and transfer machines that are ready to work and that people could actually use with a minimal amount of effort," said Gene Lynch, secretary of the Department of General Services.

Currently, there is one computer for every seven students in Maryland's primary and secondary schools. When obsolete machines are excluded, the ratio jumps to one computer for every 12 students.

Maryland's computer-to-student ratios are slightly better than the national average, but they fall short of the federal government's goal of having one up-to-date computer for every five students nationwide.

Some districts face lopsided ratios. Johnson estimated that the current proportion of students to computers in Baltimore schools is about 30 to 1. When severely outdated equipment like the Apple IIE is taken out of the equation, the ratio may climb to more than 60 to 1, he said.

While state officials say that Reboot is intended to improve the student-to-computer ratio, they add that the need for computers goes beyond the classroom. They hope to place new equipment in senior centers and other community facilities serving the indigent, disabled and elderly.

Stephen M. Kelley, information technology administrator for the Department of General Services, said Reboot is "not only for education, but for a broad range of individuals who can use this equipment."

The program's focus has been on rural and inner-city schools that lack high-tech equipment.

Reboot issued its first equipment in April, delivering 100 computers to Garrett County schools; 50 moreare on the way. The district is also receiving thousands of free software items. The equipment will be used in the county's two high schools and two middle schools for such functions as research, word processing and Internet access.

"Certainly, we were very honored to be the first recipients," said Garrett County schools Superintendent Wendell Teets. "Computers are something we never have enough of."

Baltimore City schools are planning their installation of Reboot equipment. About 57 city schools -- from elementaries to senior highs -- each have been scheduled to receive about 10 computers. The schools are preparing proposals for how they will use them.

Installation probably won't start until late August, because the city fears that leaving the equipment in the schools during summer vacation could expose it to damage during cleaning, theft or vandalism.

Larnell Johnson, director of Management Information Systems for Baltimore's public schools, said the Reboot computers will help make technology more accessible to students.

"We'll use them for whatever we can," he said. "This will just be another tool the schools can use to provide a learning system for the kids."

Pub Date: 6/15/98

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