Milton High School is making the most of a batch of older computers Sen. Patrick Leahy donated last week.

Leahy, with help from the Vt. Agency of Education, arranged for five Vermont schools with the highest need for computers to receive the machines as part of the U.S. Senate’s Computer for Schools programs, a news release from his office said last week. 

Unfortunately, some computers broke in transit and arrived damaged.

Yet Milton Town School District technology supervisor Tabitha Evans doesn’t see this as a problem. The computers are being used in Tom Heller’s ninth-grade computer mechanics class.

AOE education technology coordinator Peter Drescher said he contacted the top five schools in need, but not all were interested in the computers. Milton landed the devices once he queried a listserv of schools to gauge interest. 

“Some schools might get them and think, ‘Oh, this is junk,’” Evans said. “But for us, they work in our computer mechanics class, and so, we’re happy.”

Leahy’s office has since pledged to send four other computers. Hearing this news, Evans was delightfully surprised.

The next batch, she said, will be used for the same purposes. Students will be able to work in smaller groups or individually with the computers.

Though broken, the computers are in perfect condition for the class, Evans said. Students will take the computers apart and put them back together, working hands-on with “every little intricate piece,” she said.

“Most of them come to us with no operating system or no software, so the ones in good working condition, we can actually put the software on there and teach [students] how to image them, among other things, and then utilize them in the high school library,” Evans said.

The hands-on learning is priceless, she added. It provides something a textbook doesn’t.

“You can’t teach hardware unless you actually show the kids and it’s gotta be hands-on,” she said. “They’ve gotta put it in their hands and see, OK, this is a motherboard, this is a memory chip, this is where we’re gonna store the operating system.”

The district already buys kits for such lessons, she said, but Leahy’s donation means the district will purchase fewer this year and save money as a result.

In non-working condition, dispersed in parts, the computers are worth about $100-$200 apiece, Evans said. Even when up and running, they won’t be worth much, “but our kids are being able to learn for free,” she said.

“Computers are essential learning and teaching tools in modern classrooms,” Leahy wrote in the press release. “For years, I have enjoyed having online chats with Vermont students, and computers are increasingly used for lessons, assignments, research and homework.”

The Senate’s sergeant-at-arms oversees the program, which donates surplus computers to classrooms across the country.

AOE’s Drescher noted most schools receiving the computers use them in lab or programming environments. In today’s society, districts are focused on Chromebooks, laptops and tablets, he added.

Clarendon Elementary School, Orwell Village School, Hardwick Elementary School and Bellows Falls Union High School also obtained five computers each. Milton is the only town with a population over 3,000 that received the devices.

“We certainly appreciate Sen. Leahy thinking of us when this opportunity comes up,” Drescher said. “Definitely, students benefit from the use of these computers, so we’re happy with it.”