Help Your Community
Let’s suppose for a moment that you want your club to perform community service in which you recycle computers and give them to people who need them. Before you begin, there are some questions you should address:
Are you going to help families from your school? If so, you can work with your school’s community liaison, school counselor, or even classroom teachers to help locate families in need of a computer. One additional question: if you are going to give computers to students’ families, how are the families going to get them? The Asian Penguins established the practice of going on Penguin missions, which are field trips to bring computers to families’ homes. However, when it is more convenient for the Asian Penguins and the family, sometimes the parents will come to the school to pick up the computer. For the Penguin Corps, the practice was strictly to have families pick up the computers at school. Both practices work.
If you plan to take computers to families homes -- making it a field trip for the club members who are going -- make sure you are aware of your school’s transportation and field trip policies. These can vary greatly from school to school.
If you plan to send computers home to students' homes, another consideration is are the computers a gift or a loan? The Asian Penguins gave computers away. However, the Penguin Corps opted instead to loan computers to families. With the loan program, that meant that the school would provide continued support for the student and would provide replacement computers if something went wrong. Both solutions have advantages of their own.
Are you going to help people outside of your school? If so, make contact with different community organizations that work with individuals who can benefit from your help. One possibility may be an organization that needs computers for their work.
Are you going to try to help your school with its technology needs? If so, talk to your IT people about what ideas you have and what the school may actually need. Also, bring your administration into the conversation about how you want to help.
Our Linux clubs have done all of these. For helping students and families, we had teachers fill out referral forms for kids they identified as having a need for technology in their homes. We then assembled a referral list and contacted families to see if they still needed a computer. If the answer was yes, we set up an appointment to have a mission team go to their home to set up the computer for them. We also worked with our middle school technology teacher, who surveyed students as they came through his classes, asking them if their families needed computers.
We have given computers to outside organizations. The first was CSE's sister school in Thailand. The 8th graders went on a global connection trip to Thailand to learn about life in their homeland, and one of the places they got to visit was our sister school there. Before the group left, the Asian Penguins procured some laptop computers and the adults going on the trip took them in their luggage. When they arrived at the school, the laptops were presented as a gift. The Penguin Corps gave a laptop to a school leader that visited Aspen Academy, and he took the laptop back to his school in Cambodia.
Another organization that received computers was an antipoverty nonprofit. The Asian Penguins had just received a large donation of desktop computers, and the nonprofit’s director called me to ask for computers. I went and talked to our club’s officers to get their opinion, and they unanimously decided that we should help. The nonprofit director came to the school to pick up the computers and meet our kids, starting what (we hope) will be a long term relationship between the two organizations.
When we decided to help our school, it was after we had identified a specific need. CSE's student laptops were old, slow, and many were broken. They needed to be replaced. We launched a campaign to get newer laptops for the school, and once we got the computers, we had the Asian Penguins members install the operating systems and apps to get them ready to use.
The Penguin Corps discovered that when the school got new laptops for the teachers, many of the old ones were put in a closet while the school tried to decide what to do with them. Our social studies teacher needed computers for his room. We got those computers out, did fresh installations, cleaned them, tested them, and put them in his room. They are now used almost everyday. This was so successful we expanded the initiative to provide smaller sets of computers for all Kindergarten through 4th Grade classes.
And when we had to implement Distance Learning and provide computers for all students who needed them, the Penguin Corps recycled and handed out over 300 computers, closing our school's Digital Divide.
We have done things in addition to these. Leave your options open, and use your imagination.