On Thursday night, in the Franklin Elementary School auditorium, a fourth grader named Luis was sitting in front of a laptop computer. On the screen, arithmetic problems were descending. Each time Luis typed in the correct answer to one of the problems, a space ship would zap it with a laser beam. But they started descending faster and in greater numbers and finally he couldn’t keep up. One hit the bottom, and the words “game over,” flashed onto the screen.
Luis was one of about 70 students — mostly from Franklin and Adelante Charter Schools — who received a refurbished computer from Computers for Families, a joint venture between the nonprofit Partners in Education and the Santa Barbara County Education Office. While Computers for Families distributes computers about 20 times per year, Thursday night was distinguished because it included the 10,000th donation since the organization first got underway in 1997.
Along with free computers, low-income families received discounted internet connections from Cox Cable and as well as help from students at Las Robles High School and Los Prietos Boys Camp. The Las Robles kids also refurbished their computers, wiping out their hard drives and installing Windows 7 along with educational software like the math game Luis was playing.
Students also received internet safety training along with the computers, said program coordinator Kris White. Fourth through sixth graders got computers in the Santa Barbara Unified School district as well as the Hope and Goleta Union districts. Kindergarteners through sixth graders are eligible in Carpinteria. Matt Zuckowicz, the County Education Office’s technology guru, said that when the program first began, it was determined that in fourth grade, more technology use was demanded of students. That age may be getting younger now.
Noting the ubiquity of computer technology in modern life, Ed Heron, a Santa Barbara Unified trustee and chair of the Computers for Families committee, said that parents and students looked at the computers like they were venomous snakes when they first received them. Now, he said, they start mixing it up right away. Heron has volunteered with the program since the start.
About 600 computers are donated to South Coast students every year. Computers for Families welcomes donations of used but functional computers.