Balloons lined the hallways of Eleanor Emlen Elementary School on Friday.

The school's new computer lab opened in a ceremony that included Councilwoman Cindy Bass, state Rep. Cherelle Parker and community members.

School dinosaurs

The school's 26 computers — many older than the students themselves — were replaced with 33 new iMac desktops at the Mt. Airy K-5 public school during the summer.

"I've been in many schools and seen some dinosaurs," Bass said of the old computers. "When I went to Temple [University], we'd have these computers that I'd see at [public] schools 30 years later."

The upgrade was funded by a four-month fundraising effort coordinated by a group of local organizations, called the Mt. Airy Schools Coalition, which includes Mt. Airy USA, East Mt. Airy Neighbors and West Mt. Airy Neighbors. 

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was a packed event with a line out the door of the upgraded computer lab as community leaders and fundraiser organizers spoke.

Emlen's second-year principal, Tammy Thomas, stressed the difficulty of upgrading technology in a district strapped for cash and at a school where nearly 95 percent of the 531 students enrolled are designated by the district as economically disadvantaged.

Jaclyn Costello, the computer lab teacher at Emlen, told NewsWorks when the fundraising effort reached its nearly $48,000 goal that she never expected it to happen. 

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

Expanding the program

The fundraising effort was part of a greater initiative by the coalition to improve the the community's schools.

Abby Thaker, director of development and education partnerships at Mt. Airy USA, said there are further plans for Emlen that will focus on literacy and school culture, but didn't give specific details.

Jan Deruiter, a local business owner who helped lead the fundraising campaign, highlighted the school district for agreeing to install the computers. The school's internet network was also upgraded with money pulled together from federal funds.

Deruiter also discussed further upgrading Emlen students' access to technology by putting three computers into each of the school's classrooms as well as sending computers home with students.

He announced a deal with Comcast that allows for discounted internet to students who brought a computer home with them.

Along with the 33 new computers, students have also been provided with cloud storage and emails to save their files.

Other speakers at the event included Emlen staff, parents, students, representatives from the school district, East Mt. Airy Neighbors and West Mt. Airy Neighbors.

Besides Emlen, the coalition has also set its eyes on other schools in the neighborhood.

"We've obviously done a great job here," Deruiter said. "But there are many more [schools] to go."