Maker News
Plan C Live: Getting Every Kid A Desk And A Laptop

Having a place to work is important and, although “a room of one’s own” is an impossibility for many, a dedicated workspace to be creative and for virtual learning (or plain old homework) improves engagement and outcomes. Having a laptop and a desk at home has become a necessity for virtual learning as students have lost access to creative spaces at schools, libraries, makerspaces, and community centers. And, although many schools provide Chromebooks or other devices to students learning at home, these are often limited for use with school programs. The significant disparities in access to these public and personal resources has only been magnified by the pandemic: How do kids with fewer resources get the tools that can foster their creativity and help them learn?

On this episode of Plan C Live, Dale Dougherty of Make Community and Dorothy Jones-Davis from Nation of Makers talk to makers who are tackling this question with specific outreach efforts and partnerships that put desks, laptops, and other creative supplies into the hands of kids who don’t have them. Our panelists include:

Ian Cole is part of The Maker Effect Foundation in Orlando, FL which activates and amplifies the efforts of makers as they learn, build and work together in their communities. Our programs include MakerFX Makerspace, Maker Faire Orlando, K-12 educational support, and fiscal sponsorship of FIRST Robotics teams. Read more about Ian’s day job and outreach work here. Check out the Designer Desks program here.

Jordan Hopkins is Director of Data Management & Professional Development at Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida. She and her organization have partnered with The Maker Effect Foundation, HuntonBrady Architects, and other community organizations to distribute desks to kids in the region.

Tim Bailey is the Executive Director of ATHENA Rapid Response Innovation Lab in Alexandria, Va. Originally founded in 2016 as “TechGarden,” the organization has grown to encompass a broad range of services and recently rebranded to reflect our expanded mission: ATHENA provides “tools and training at the point of need” to both the local community and communities in need around the planet. Focused on responding quickly (in days, not weeks!) to current needs with sustainable, community-supported solutions, this includes field work in disaster response situations (coronavirus, hurricanes) and providing proactive community empowerment (training classes). He also works with the Nation of Makers and was formerly the Executive Director and remains on the Board of Directors of Yuri’s Night, which uses art, music, space and engineering to bring the world together. ATHENA is producing and distributing durable, easy-to-assemble desks for kids in need. Find out more about the program here.

Allen Brooks is Chief Operation Officer of Building Momentum, a problem solving organization based in Alexandria, Virginia that pushes the boundaries of what people can learn and build. Prior to joining Building Momentum, Allen worked at the Kennedy Center building their arts education online content through the Center’s ARTSEDGE program. Thousands of classrooms across the country have used the learning platform for arts education that Allen created. Allen is also is on the Advisory Council for the District Makers Collective and has been actively involved in the public school systems organizing field trips and working towards developing a training program for teachers in the Alexandria Public School System.

Demetrius Norman is Chairman of the Board of NWLA Makerspace, where he oversees daily operations and charts long term planning, and a Senior Technical Consultant with Apple. NWLA Makerspace, an all volunteer-run organization in Shreveport, Louisiana, has been making PPE in response to community needs during the pandemic. They also recycle and refurbish donated computers and parts to deliver fully functional computers to undeserved families, individuals, schools, and nonprofits.

Amy Vu is a tenured mathematics faculty member at West Valley College in Saratoga, California. She graduated from Louisiana State University, Shreveport with a Masters in Computer Systems Technology. She also has degrees in mathematics, psychology, business, and administration of justice. Amy is currently a graduate student at Texas Tech University where she is pursuing a doctorate in Higher Education Administration. In her spare time, Amy volunteers at NWLA Makerspace where she fixes computers and manages the Computer Recycling Program.

The Computer Recycling Program (CRP) is part of NWLA Makerspace’s community production initiative. The program has two goals:(1) To bridge the digital divide by providing computers to low-income residents in Northwest Louisiana; and (2) to reduce the amount of e-waste going into landfills. The Computer Recycling Program began as an idea at a maker meet-up in 2018. We brainstormed ideas on how to upcycle and reuse computers and tucked it away for a future project. Demetrius Norman, the President of NWLA Makerspace, began quietly collecting computers and stacking them up on a table. The project was fast tracked when the pandemic closed businesses and schools. In May 2020, Amy took a computer off the table and began refurbishing them one by one. Once the computers were refurbished, we had to figure out how to get these computers into the hands of the people who needed it. A form was created online. We handed out some flyers at events and requests started coming in slowly. The first computer was given away on June 3. As we depleted the computers sitting at NWLA Makerspace, the community stepped in and brought us more computers to fill the orders. We received grants from Verizon and the Beaird Foundation to purchase missing components for the computers. The more computers we gave away, the more requests we received. By the end of 2020, we refurbished and distributed 174 computers and recycled over 1000 pounds of e-waste. Almost all (97%) of the computers were distributed to Black or African American residents. Over 85% of the requestors are female. Computers were requested by parents trying to help their children navigate virtual classes and online homework systems. Library and community center closures kept people from access they once had; the computers became their link to the outside world during the pandemic.
If you would like to replicate the Designer Desks project in your own community or make and give desk of your own, the design is open source and available on GitHub. Ian and the team are also available to share project details with those interested in setting up a chapter in their own city.
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