Acquiring & Updating Used Computers

Mike Lawson • Archives • March 1, 1999

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As an elective, music frequently gets the short straw in school budget allotments. Consequently, music educators have few opportunities to incorporate technology in their curriculum. But with a little networking, music educators can obtain used computers via donations and grants as well as updating computers. There are a lot of useable 386, 486 and first-generation Pentium computers available in the business world waiting to be recycled. As a middle and senior high school teacher, I have had many successes over the years in getting nearly 60 used computers donated. I will share with you here several recommendations of where to purchase used computers at bargain rates and music software that really works with these computers.

Strategies for Used Computer Donations
Begin by contacting local civic organizations about providing entertainment for their weekly or monthly business meetings. Your music groups are excellent sources for stimulating awareness of your organization. Businesses look favorably on donations that put their name before the public. After you do a short music concert for their luncheon, for example, you can present a proposal about technology needs that the school district is not able to support for creative instructional purposes. The Kiwanis Club, the Lions Club, the Elks Club, the Moose Club and the Rotary Club are local organizations that have responded very generously to my proposals. I have also gone to government agencies, such as HUD and to organizations such as Martin Marietta for generous donations. The result is that I have been able to put together two complete computer labs with over 50 recycled computers. Imagine getting over 50 computers donated to your school with only two phone calls and setting up computer labs for your students to actually use!

Let’s not forget about your school’s PTA for a donation of used computer equipment or money to purchase technology equipment. Many teachers I’ve talked to have had great success working with the PTA. For one reason, the PTA as a national organization is a strong supporter of arts in education. Plus, members of the PTA are connected to the business community and can provide necessary links between school and business, such as a contact at their company to solicit hardware donations.

It is important when soliciting donations to focus attention on what the needed hardware/software can do for your students. One example might be bringing authentic creative opportunities into the classroom and teaching up to MENC national music standards that deal with theory, ear-training, composing, improvising and/or arranging. The Pygraphics Amadeus II is a hardware product that has assessment software that can give you specific data on how well your students are learning to perform rhythms and pitch. Coda’s Smartmusic is incredibly important with its interactive accompanists that can follow ritards and accelarandos as well as grand pauses. SmartMusic and Band-In-A-Box are fantastic accompaniment generator software applications for practicing jazz/rock/Latin improvisation skills with a rhythm section. Musical scores generated by Finale ’98 and Sibelius can be very impressive especially when you play them via MIDI playback. Don’t hesitate to use videotapes about the learning that will go on. Sometimes, publishers will have appropriate materials to include with your proposal.

Surfing the Internet can bring little treasures. You may discover government agencies that regularly donate used computer equipment to non-profit organizations. HUD is one government agency that does this. If you make a bookmark on your web browser for Jefferson County Public Schools at:, you will find over 12 of the leading Web search engines “hot” linked on one web page for fast surfing. On the Internet, I found a non-profit computer recycling organization that regularly provides computers to those in the community who would not otherwise have access to them. The Marin Computer Resource Center of San Rafael, California, regularly donates computers to public schools, libraries, non-profit organizations and economically and physically disadvantaged individuals throughout the world, at no cost to the recipient except the shipping costs. They even refurbish the computers before donating them.

Marin Computer Resource Center
757 Lincoln Avenue, Suite #19
San Rafael, CA 94901
Phone: 415-454-4227
Fax: 415-454-8238

There are organizations that sell pre-owned electronics to schools. Pre-Owned Electronics, Inc. is an independent company founded 14 years ago to provide Apple and Apple Macintosh computer systems, parts, and accessories. They sell peripheral parts as well, all with 180-day limited warranty on CD-ROMs, keyboards, printers, mice, modems, networking hardware, PC compatible cards, RAM, and video interface cards. Pre-Owned Electronics now provides Compaq service parts that have been re-manufactured for out-of-warranty Compaq models: Presario, Deskpro, Prolinia, Elite and Contura.

Pre-Owned Electronics
125 Middlesex Turnpike
Bedford, MA 01730

The latest development is that Goodwill Industries has just joined forces with Hewlett-Packard (HP). HP is encouraging small businesses to donate their workable printers, faxes, scanners and copiers to Goodwill outlets throughout the United States and Canada. The equipment is sold in Goodwill stores, providing local Goodwill outlets with additional funds for their services. Donations are expected to total 15,000 units. From January to May, 1999, anyone who donates equipment to Goodwill will receive rebates on HP’s new all-in-ones, which combine printing, faxing, scanning and copying in one space-saving device. The rebates range from $75 to $150 on the purchase of an HP OfficeJet Pro 1175 and 1170, and HP Office Jet 700/710 all-in-one. Before the newly donated equipment is sold, it will be refurbished.

I have also had quite a bit of success at parent-teacher conferences and back-to-school night conferences where I speak to parents and explain the benefits of donating old computers to my school program. Legally, people who donate technology equipment can claim up to 100 percent of the original purchase price on their Federal income taxes. Businesses and parents have been very supportive in donating used computers because of these tax benefits. However, always remind people who donate technology equipment to schools to check with their tax advisers concerning how much tax credit can actually be claimed. What the school needs to do is give the donor a thank you letter stating the date of the donated equipment along with the value of the equipment when it was originally purchased on official school stationary with an administrator’s signature and a date of donation to validate the donation for tax purposes.

Updating Used Computers: Hardware Considerations
While used computers are not always able to take advantage of the latest software applications because of hardware limitations, you would be surprised how inexpensive it can be to upgrade used computers if you can find qualified people in your area to assist you. Band and orchestra paren

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