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Trash to Treasure: Laptops2Kids Trains Kids In Key STEM Skills

High school students in Tacoma Public School System refurbish laptops that will be given to students who don't have access to a computer at home.

When a school purchases new computers, what happens to the old ones?

In Tacoma Public Schools, old equipment used to be sent to surplus where it would be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Thanks to the development of the Laptops2Kids program, the story of old equipment has become one of new opportunities.

Career + Technical Education

Laptops2Kids is one of many programs at Tacoma Public Schools that let high school students learn through internships and work site learning. Through Career and Technical Education (CTE), students who don’t plan to attend a traditional four-year college can receive class credit and pay while they work for business partners in industries including banking, human services, manufacturing and IT.

Tacoma Public Schools itself is a large institution with its own hiring needs and has been able to create several positions for students. The Laptops2Kids program exists through a partnership between Tacoma Public Schools’ IT Department and its CTE program.


The Laptops2Kids Program tasks participating high school students with refurbishing the school district’s old laptop computers. Once their work is complete, the laptops are gifted to eligible students within the school district. Eligibility is based on the free and reduced price meal criteria, with priority receipt going to high school students, then middle schoolers and finally elementary school students.

High school students who participate in the Laptops2Kids program can earn community service hours or worksite learning credit to put toward graduation requirements. Students who are 16 or older can even be officially hired by the school district. These students get paid the minimum wage and get experience writing a resume, submitting a cover letter and going through the rest of the hiring process.

Program participants learn task-specific technology skills like laptop imaging, screen replacement, keyboard replacement and repair, hard drive replacement and RAM installation, but Worksite Learning Coordinator Chris Sieg is quick to point out that these competencies represent only part of the lesson.

Universally applicable like skills troubleshooting, self-management, time management, organization, teamwork and professionalism are just as much a part of the learning that goes on, and are invaluable for students preparing to join the working world.

The beauty of the program is that the recipients of the laptops also benefit in such a significant way. Computer skills are vital to success, not only in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields but for the vast majority of “white-collar” jobs. Increasingly, “pink-collar” jobs and “blue collar” jobs demand computer literacy too.

By getting computers into the hands of kids who might not ordinarily have access, the Laptops2Kids Program allows them to develop the same savviness as their more fortunate peers. This is a powerful way to even the playing field and prepare kids from a variety of backgrounds for the job opportunities before them.

Learning Best Practices from Learning Labs

Tacoma Public Schools’ Work-Based Learning Program is only one of 21 Learning Labs across the state of Washington recognized by Governor Jay Inslee, Washington STEM and the Workforce Board. These Learning Labs explore best practices in Career Connected Learning and each receives a $15,000 grant to allow them to participate in the assessment that identifies best practices.

This May, representatives from each program will meet at the Governor’s Summit on Work-Based Learning to share success stories and develop strategies to expand opportunities across the state.

Washington STEM CEO Patrick D’Amelio is particularly hopeful about the reach of the best practices that will be identified through the Learning Labs. “We’ll be learning what works for STEM career connected learning in rural and urban areas, for youth in middle school through young adulthood, and with diverse groups from foster youth to vets to Tribal youth. The Learning Labs will help us understand how to effectively support young people’s STEM career pathways.”

CenturyLink is a global communications hosting, cloud and IT services company committed to strengthening and improving the communities it serves. CenturyLink focuses its philanthropic and volunteer efforts on K-12 education programs that support technology-focused initiatives. Learn more about CenturyLink.

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