Greetings students, teachers, parents, and care givers and welcome back to school! We at Laptop Upcycle are pleased that school is back in session and we wish everyone all the best in these difficult times. We have a lot of news to share on multiple fronts; partnerships, milestones, progress in our lab, and new volunteers, but to start a series of posts on these pages we share our opinion on the difference between Chromebooks and other laptops, with a focus on usage in our public schools in Montclair.
The Montclair Board of Education announced in late August of 2021 that they would be issuing Chromebooks to every student as a part of their one-to-one Chromebook initiative (see this Montclair Local article for details). Laptop Upcycle fully supports this effort and we congratulate the district for this action. Getting technology in to the hands of students who need it has been our passion for close to five years now and we have succeeded in giving over 1000 laptops to students locally.
Laptop Upcycle would like you to understand the difference between borrowing a Chromebook from the District and getting one from us. Without further ado -
Thanks, Laptop Upcycle
Sunny summer salutations from the Laptop Upcycle Lab!
As this unusual school year has finally, officially ended, we’d like to call attention to the local high school seniors who have participated in our internship program and now graduated. Some of them have been coming to the Laptop Upcycle Lab for quite a few years!
Hailing from Glen Ridge High School, Newark Academy and Montclair High School, this small army of dedicated young men and women has shown up regularly and often to learn how to test and repair laptops, securely wipe data, install and test new software so that each laptop that goes out the door is in the best condition possible. They have also had the chance to teach others and take leadership on special projects. We know the experiences and expertise they have gained will serve them well -- in college and beyond!
To say that we appreciate their time and rely on their help is an understatement!
Summer high school internships
Operating throughout the summer, our Laptop Upcycle internship program is open to any high school student who wants to learn about computers or earn community service hours. To learn more and read our updated COVID-19 precautions, join the Laptop Upcycle Lab Facebook group to stay up to date or grab a spot for a lab session here!
(Almost) ageless opportunities
Older than high school? We are 100% volunteer-run and seek new community volunteers! Of special interest is someone who can help us build a curriculum to certify our interns. If you’re interested, drop us a line!
Thank you again to all our high school students for their community volunteerism, interest and enthusiasm. And, a BIG congratulations to the graduated Lab seniors!
We're all marveling in the change since January and certainly a hard shift from last June. While we’re hopeful that every student will be back in the classroom in the fall, poverty will continue to make learning and homework a challenge for many students in New Jersey (and beyond). Here is a great opportunity to help!
Charlie Peterson, an Eagle Scout candidate, is collecting laptops this Saturday morning, June 26th. Watch his video.
If you can’t make the Saturday laptop drive send us a quick email to set up a pick up or drop off. Thank you for your support!
Meet Max, not just your everyday high school student. He’s an EMT, a chess tutor, an ultimate Frisbee player and coach, and most importantly for Laptop Upcycle, he’s a dedicated and passionate volunteer logging more than 700 hours the last 3 years. He’s amazing Max!
Max arrived, as many volunteers do, with little experience or expertise in refurbishing and repairing laptops. He started with wiping data, installing new software and testing laptops. Later moving on to refurbishing and learning about computer hardware, and started bringing donated laptops and accessories he collected from friends and family.
Seeking bigger challenges
He volunteered to set up and continues to operate an eBay store for the organization. To do that he learned coding for Google Sheets to make an inventory and sales tracking system for the Ebay store. Through the Lab’s store, Max has helped Laptop Upcycle raise funds to purchase the parts and pieces we need to refurbish donated laptops. As a result of his efforts, we’ve already recouped more than $3000 which has funded replacement batteries, chargers, hard drives and memory for our laptop donations that need a little help.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Max took those lessons learned from the eBay store creation and also wrote an inventory tracking system for our Laptops. This is used daily to track the processing status and location of our donated laptops.
Student volunteers grow the program
Max exemplifies the Laptop Upcycle student volunteer model: teach some new skills and turn those skills into helping others in the community. According to Max, a self-described systems guy, “It’s cool and I get to solve puzzles figuring out technical issues. I get to choose the projects I like to work on and watch the shelves fill up with laptops that are ready to be handed out. I work with a rotating group of volunteers who are all great people including some Montclair High School friends who also volunteer, so it’s a safe, productive place to see them.”
All this because of amazing Max!
Become a Laptop Upcycle volunteer (any age)
Adults with a spring in their step are also needed to help us expand our reach and deliver on our mission to students both locally and beyond. If you want to make a positive difference like us, we want to hear from you.
It's easy to Spring into action (no matter what season).
Become a volunteer (no coding needed), or Donate laptops, or Donate money
As you know, we’re always trying to attract solid, working laptops that we can clean off, clean up, test and test again to deliver to students who can’t afford a computer for school. Most of the time, this is a PC or a Chromebook.
But we also get MacBook donations (thank you!) that we reserve for special needs students. Their teachers find that Apple products are easier to implement and have a broader range of software designed for their students. It’s worth holding them aside.
And, in March, we had a perfect match: we had MacBooks that were ready to go and a school that (really) needed them.
Heywood Avenue School (Orange, NJ) had a big tech ask
As a result of the COVID crisis, all the devices in the Orange Township Public School District had either been given out or had just given up. Heywood Avenue School Principal Faith Alcantara noted, “In the last 2 weeks I’ve collected about 20 devices that have failed. The District has placed an order but schools everywhere are competing for the same inventory. It’s especially challenging for my teachers while we are fully remote with equipment that is failing or has to be shared by different family members.”
With a large, underprivileged student population at Heywood Avenue School ranging from grades K-7, the children in contained classrooms and resource support classrooms are learning remotely and using computers that aren’t adapted for their abilities. “It’s not just needing a working computer. Teachers have found that the Macs have better functionality allowing for more effective teaching methods for these particular students. It’s important to remove any barrier to student success and ability to learn.”
A “Donors Choose” request kicked it off
Ms. Muller, a resource classroom teacher at Heywood Avenue School in Orange, NJ, posted a desperate online request for MacBooks to replace older Chromebooks that were in various stages of deterioration (no speaker, no camera, no battery life, no internet connectivity, etc.) for her special education students. I found the online request and then volunteers coordinated the donation, pickup, and delivery of 17 refurbished and ready-to-go MacBooks to the Heywood Avenue School resource classroom students. The school then arranged safe pickup or delivery to each student in need. As a result, 17 families will be able to keep the donated Apple MacBooks as a permanent learning tool for each child.
Ms. Alcantara has only praise for her teachers, students and families during the COVID school crisis, “Students must have a device that includes a camera, connectivity, and speakers to allow teachers to effectively teach. Teachers need up-to-date and effective technology and, although schools have made investments, who would have predicted that in this situation? Since March 2020, we have worked tirelessly to remove all barriers to our [students’] learning to ensure that all students have devices and an internet connection. Our students are working diligently to remain connected and engaged in their learning activity.”
Her appreciation extended to the Laptop Upcycle donation. “We are excited that 17 of our students will be able to utilize Apple MacBooks as we have found that they often work better than the Chromebooks the majority of our students use. We cannot thank you enough for supporting the students of Heywood Avenue School.”
Communities keeping the faith
Laptop Upcycle can support schools like Heywood Elementary only because of the technology donations and funding that our supporters provide. And sometimes, that niche computer that isn’t part of our usual distribution is perfect for another student audience in need. In this case, the students in a particular resource classroom benefited mightily.
We don’t hand out laptops for these cups and candy, but boy this was a thank you that we all appreciated.
To learn more about Heywood Avenue School and its tremendous principal Faith Alcantara, click here. Thank you to all our supporters for your continuous stream of donations and word of mouth messaging. You're doing great work.
Laptop Upcycle Board Member
Alex Veldran, a Montclair High School junior, ran a friends and family drive to collect used laptops to donate to Laptop Upcycle. And then he shoveled driveways to increase his campaign success.
Montclair, NJ - March 20, 2020 -- Alex Veldran, a junior at Montclair High School, was looking for a way to increase his volunteer hours for his National Honors Society application and help other students without risking COVID exposure to himself or his family.
In 2019, he had interned in the Laptop Upcycle lab and, along with other high school students, learned how to repair computers, install software safely and securely wipe data from hard drives.
“A friend of mine, Max Waitz, volunteers all the time at the Laptop Upcycle lab and asked me to go with him. I have a few friends who don’t have a computer or had a school laptop so I thought this was an important mission to focus on. I’ve also done some tutoring and realized that some people just don’t have the equipment to do their homework. And now, with the pandemic, I really understand how important it is to have a workable laptop that is yours to use. It’s a huge privilege.”
Knowing that a lot of people are cleaning out closets and home offices, he thought that this might be a way to get laptop donations. He created a flyer for his neighbors, and emailed and texted family, friends and fellow MHS baseball team players. And he put his muscles to work too. With the recent snowfall, he was able to add $100 to his collection of three laptops, three keyboards, various power adapters, headphones and two laptop backpacks.
“When I asked for laptops, some people were concerned about how safe it was because of their data. Because of my experience in the lab, I could assure them that it was safe. Most people I talked to thought this was a great idea, especially when our whole lives are online.”
Mike Brown, Laptop Upcycle’s board member who leads refurbishment was thrilled with Alex's initiative but not surprised. “The students that volunteer in the Lab are highly motivated. They understand our mission of getting laptops into the hands of kids who just can’t afford it. After they work on computers for a while, they also see the value in upcycling technology into a workable school computer. They know the need exists in their school, and they learn how satisfying it is to work with your hands and build something that has such tremendous life-changing value. We’re thrilled with Alex’s accomplishment and donations.”
Even though his National Honors Society application has been submitted, Alex plans to continue collecting laptops and peripherals for the rest of the year.
As we all grind on through this difficult Winter and pandemic, we at Laptop Upcycle have been exploring other opportunities for local students to become engaged in technology enrichment beyond the twice weekly limited and distanced lab sessions we support.
Today we are excited to announce a partnership with TechConnect, a fellow 501c3 nonprofit based in Summit, NJ, to offer free online coding classes for students locally. TechConnect was founded in early 2020 to help bridge the digital divide for students impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Their goals are very similar to ours and we encourage you to visit their web site and learn more about them.
For the local Laptop Upcycle community, our partnership with TechConnect will provide access to cutting edge online coding resources, and importantly an existing and vibrant support community for those who wish to enroll in the courses.
Anyone who has explored online courses often encounter roadblocks in the form of lack of community and support which all too often results in waning interest in the class. The TechConnect team has an existing infrastructure in place to remedy this issue and we at Laptop Upcycle will also be ready to help where we can, given the interest level and community meetup guidelines.
The TechConnect team offers three (3) different course categories based upon each of these 3 languages, Scratch, Python, and Java. Scratch can be learned by many young students even in elementary school. Python and Java are a bit more challenging, but many middle schoolers pick those up very quickly. Note that Java is even more complex than Python, but we know there are those in our schools that are ready for it. If parents need assistance in helping to decide where their students should start, feel free to contact us directly.
The process to get started coding is very simple. You visit the TechConnect site and create a free account with them. Then you select the “Classes” link on their site and pick the course you wish to begin. It’s that easy. Note on the Classes page you will also see links for the support resources, an online forum, other resources, and the schedule for weekly Zoom meetups to engage with other students.
We’re excited to offer this resource to our community and we hope you take advantage of it.
The Laptop Upcycle team!
PS - If your kids need a laptop to start coding or you know someone who does, you know we can help with that!
Valentine’s Day might be considered the ultimate Hallmark Holiday, but we think it's the perfect opportunity to showcase the Laptop Upcycle people that make the love happen in our lab:
Yep, these are the students who get a laptop. They’re so grateful and thrilled to be in school and online with a computer that is their own.
Drivers delivering laptops throughout COVID and instructors working with our interns.
Our community donors
Single laptops and providing gift cards and cash when we need it most.
Our foundation donors
The Don Katz and Leslie Larson Foundation, Montclair Foundation, Best Buy Community Grant, and The United Way of Montclair for the support funding, the grants and the lab space.
Our high school interns
They're showing up every Thursday and Sunday, enthusiastically learning and earning community service hours (and fixing laptops, cables, and more).
Our corporate donors
Guardian Data Destruction, Pfizer, Essence Global Advertising and Ukodit for donating laptops and computer bags.
Can you tell we love our Laptop family - our interns, volunteers and donors! And the kids! How do we know the efficacy of our program? Just read the appreciative notes from students, parents and teachers. It’s AMAZING how much love comes with a working laptop.
During February, please consider showing us the love with a laptop donation, your time or $$. And, we’ll send you a Hallmark-worthy thank you (and tax receipt you'll really love)!
The whole, really grateful, Board of Laptop Upcycle - 8 dedicated people working tirelessly to keep laptops coming in the door, running our student internship program, writing emails, social media, submitting grants and so much more.
Happy New Year!
Hard to believe that January is almost over when it feels like it’s just begun!
We are so grateful to all our December donors via Giving Tuesday, our Facebook campaign and emails. It was our largest end of year donation ever!
And (drum roll), your monetary donations paid our rent, internet fees, and insurance. That means the Lab stays open for our interns, techs and volunteers. You’ve funded our essential workers! Bravo!
But, let’s remember, even with the changes in the Oval Office and vaccinations on the horizon, COVID and poverty continue to make learning, especially online, a challenge for many students in our community.
We need laptops. Our supply is very, very low.
How can you help? Look around at home - under your bed, desk drawers and closets. Ask around. Solicit your neighbors, family and friends. On your next Zoom or Slack chat, ask your coworkers, IT guys, the boss or friendly customers. You never know who may have an unneeded laptop to donate (with a webcam please!). We need them. The students need them. (And you get a tax receipt!). Click here for our latest donation guide including data security.) Found a laptop (or 20)? Contact us to coordinate a safe drop off or drop us a quick email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’ve got a LOT of laptops we will (super happily) pick them up! It’s that easy.
Thanks again for a most rewarding end to 2020 but do not forget to pat yourself on the back. To date, 821 students have benefited from your generosity to Laptop Upcycle! And, if you wanted to donate to our end of year campaigns but simply forgot, just click here.
Mark Zbucki, Board Member & IT Engineer
PS Do you have a student who wants to learn about computers? Our intern program in the lab has resumed in a safe, socially-distanced way. Join the Laptop Upcycle Lab Facebook group to stay up to date or grab a spot for a lab session here!
Whether it’s end-of-year giving or planning for the upcoming year, we are grateful to our donors who give locally to create a big impact for our community. As a nonprofit based in Essex County, New Jersey, we are 100% donation funded with no paid staff. It’s bootstraps and your generosity that do it all.
And what, exactly, has your generosity accomplished to date? Here it is in black and white as we close out the end of 2020 -- a memorable year that is even more stark for those kids who don’t have a computer for virtual learning.