Free computers help out low-income Modesto middle schoolers

naustin@modbee.comApril 12, 2014 

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Roosevelt Junior High seventh-grader Carlos Hernandez wheels out his free computer from 2nd Chance Modesto Computer Refurbishing at the Jesus Our Savior Anglican Church in Modesto on Saturday.

NAN AUSTIN — naustin@modbee.com Buy Photo

Eighth-grader Marisol Palomino and her dad arrived half an hour early, the first in line for one of 14 free, refurbished computers. She’s aiming for college, and knows she needs more than her dad’s smartphone and an old PC shared among families.

The computers came courtesy of retired teacher Terry Scott, founder of 2nd Chance Modesto Computer Refurbishing. Scott has repurposed about 400 computers donated by local businesses or scrounged from garage sales.

“Occasionally, I have to cannibalize parts from other machines, but most are fully functional,” he said, between families picking up machines at Jesus Our Savior Anglican Church on Saturday. Each computer has had its hard drive scrubbed and a free Linux operating system and free Microsoft Office-compatible software installed.

“I’m very much an open source person because it’s important for every person to have a computer,” Scott said. “It started with just a few, but it kind of snowballed.” Now, he added, “It’s a team effort.”

Wife Mary Scott does the paperwork. Friends from his teaching days and a stint as a tech specialist lend support and bring in computers. Student referrals mostly come from Yolanda Palacio at Hanshaw Middle School.

Marisol attends the south Modesto school and, like most of the students, came clutching a treasured referral card for a computer. Asked about plans for the machine, the answer is universal: “Homework.” Marisol wants to type her English papers and believes she could do better projects for her first-generation, college prep program.

Michelle Mariscal, helping her son Ramon Mariscal pick out his computer, said he earned the device with hard work at school. “He’s a good student. He’s a 3.85 (grade-point average),” she said, beaming a smile at him.

High school is just around the corner for most of the recipients Saturday, where a computer can make the difference between success and failure, said Riverbank High teacher Mary Lopez.

“It’s amazing how much work the teachers assign,” Lopez said. “There’s a disconnect between what teachers and even the government in (Washington) D.C. thinks they have access to and what the low-income kids really do.”

The free computers are good ones, she adds, “faster than the ones in the library.”

The referrals include time spent talking with the family about the pluses – and risks – of the Internet. Families agree to not sell the computer for a set period of time, and students are on their honor to do community service in exchange. With their new computer, families receive a pamphlet on signing up for $10-a-month online access for low-income families through Comcast.

The machines come with what Scott calls a permanent warranty. “If they have problems, they bring them back and I swap them for another one,” he said. Then he debugs the problem machine and gets it ready to hand over to another person tightly clutching a referral card.

Computers are available only to referred, low-income students. To donate, or for more information, contact Terry Scott at 2nd Chance Modesto Computer Refurbishing by calling (209) 402-8586 or emailing terry@2ndChanceModesto.org. Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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