Jaclyn Costello, the technology teacher at Eleanor Emlen Elementary School, distributed colored sticks to her students. Then, she showed one of her own.

Students holding a matching color could use the newer computers that day; the others had to set up educational shop in front of a decade-old model.

Outdated options

This is to say that the Chew Avenue school's computer lab is in sad shape, with some equipment actually being older than some students.

Of the 26 computers, many offered no audio capabilities. On occasion, one would crash and sit idle for months.

Essential programs like Flash were not supported, so educational software was mostly out of reach. Since the lab was used by students who fell behind in math and reading, the situation limited their educational options.

“I hated class as much as they did,” Costello admitted.

The Mt. Airy K-5 school had 531 students enrolled last year, nearly 95 percent of whom were designated by the school district as economically disadvantaged. With the district again facing fiscal uncertainty, funding for an upgrade seemed unlikely.

“We barely have money to do anything, to stay above the water,” Principal Tammy Thomas said.

The water line, however, has been surpassed.

'Winning the lottery'

In April, the Mt. Airy Schools Coalition approached Emlen with a plan to raise more than $48,000 for 33 new iMac computers by the start of the next school year.

“In my mind, there was no way they would come up with this,” said Costello. “They were talking about it like ‘when it happens.’ I thought it was like when you’re talking about winning the lottery.”

The "Emlen Computer Lab Initiative" has since reached its goal thanks to a large initial donation which spurred on an additional 30 donors by the time the goal was reached earlier this month.

“I was somewhat surprised myself,” said Jan Deruiter, a local business owner who helped lead the fundraising campaign. “I was surprised how aware and eager to help people were.”

Moving forward

With new equipment coming, Costello said she's building lesson plans around video editing and podcast recording, as well as tapping into educational software that teaches reading and math.

Each student will receive a personal email account (for emailing classmates and teachers only) to further their technological education.

Abby Thaker, director of development and education partnerships at Mt. Airy USA, said the project was a landmark for the schools coalition because of its size and impact.

“We’re hoping the ribbon cutting in September will help pave the way,” Thacker said.

Some of the old computers will be restored and put in Emlen’s classrooms.

Additional used desktop-computers will be donated by companies and hospitals for use in the classrooms, said Deruiter, adding that they hope to get donated computers sent students’ homes, along with working with Comcast to provide affordable internet plans.

A ribbon cutting for the new lab is scheduled for Sept. 5 as the new computers are expected to be installed before students return from summer break.

“To get brand-new computers, we’re very grateful,” Thomas said. “It builds a sense of community, a sense of support that someone cares.”