When an Annapolis High School senior first accessed online learning for the final quarter of the school year, she relied heavily on her phone and printed assignments.
Linette Luengas said she used to print nearly 20 pages for each of her eight classes to try and stay on top of her work as Anne Arundel County schools continue schooling online.
“I had to print all of those papers and study it, respond, take pictures and upload it. It was difficult,” the 18-year-old said.
Though she qualified for a loaned Chromebook from the school system, Luengas said getting to the pick up location conflicted with her mother’s work schedule. The school system has distributed more than 10,000 Chromebooks to students, Superintendent George Arlotto said at a county budget hearing.
As of late April, the Annapolis and Glen Burnie clusters had the highest amount of students not yet engaged in online learning. Annapolis had over 600 students not yet connected, though that number does not reflect families without devices, said school spokesman Bob Mosier over email.
By on May 6, the system reported about 2,600 students were still not engaged online.
Luengas worked around not having a computer at home until she received a donation from a Glen Burnie resident, who happens to have a passion for restoring older electronics.
In his basement and shed, Ed Witles assembles used parts of computers to donate to county students, all in an effort to help students get online during the statewide school closure.
Ed Witles had computer parts around his home and he realized he could put them to good use.
“I heard about the pandemic and school closures and started thinking about people who need technology,” Witles said.
He had 12 Dell laptops donated and a collection of desktops. Witles decided to build them up for students to use. Throughout the endeavor, he remains resourceful by looking online and taking up damaged or old computers and the associated parts.
If Witles ran into a laptop with a cracked screen, he would replace it and keep moving.
“I cast the widest and deepest net, I don’t want to say ‘I won’t take this,’” Witles explained. Computer parts that did not need to remain temperature controlled would go in his shed and the rest he kept in his basement.
He was able to connect with Romey Pittman, an Annapolis High School history teacher, and together theygave at least 10 students fully restored computers, including Luengas.
With a laptop at home, Luengas said it is much easier to do her work especially for written responses.
“It is a different world. When I used to do it on my phone, I would write it in my notebook and type it on my phone,” she explained.
Now she no longer has to do twice as much work to send in her assignments. She can even do her homework around her house or at work, which helps with her schedule. Luengas also said she no longer needs to spend money on printing.
“It is just a lot easier than what it used to be before,” she said.
Pittman said the donations not only help her students but also assist with grading because the process of receiving assignments is much quicker, she said.
“The ones trying to do work on their phone, writing down answers, taking a picture of it and sending it to me — it was taking me forever to grade papers,” Pittman said.
For her students, receiving computers is also helpful for their families. She recounted examples of student using parents’ phones, some students still had to go to work and stay engaged in class and others had four or more siblings to one Chromebook.
But now those who were able to get a donated computer can really participate.
“For some kids that it totally made the difference between being able to do the learning and not being able to at all. For others, I think it just made it much easier to do and less stressful,” Pittman said.
Witles is still repairing laptops and desktops for students in and around the county. He said his work is not to be spotlighted but to really help others, a desire he had even before the pandemic began.
“One of the things I had envisioned several years ago, I want to make a positive difference in the lives of kids,” he said.
Luengas, and other students who received a donated computer, have written thank you notes that Witles keeps. Once she graduates, Luengas said she plans on passing along her computer to another student in need.