ST. PAUL, Minn. -- "We know either everything is broken, or that the video card is broken."
Middle school teacher Jeff Cater is teaching students the Community School of Excellence in Saint Paul the finer points of computer repair. He is a recent addition to a school club that has dubbed claimed the name "Asian Penguins."
"The predominant demographic in our school is Hmong students," explained adviser Stuart Keroff, a social studies teacher.
"Secondly, the mascot of Linux is a penguin by the name of Tux, so we put those two things together an came up with Asian Penguins."
Armed with a grant from Free Geek Twin cities, a Minneapolis non-profit, and the free Linux operating system, Keroff began acquiring computers for his students so they could learn about the technology, and test-drive a different operating platform.
The concept grew into a club, which then grew into a mission.
"We decided to take it to the next level of not just having them work on the computers in my room or on their laptops, but 'Let's see if we can actually help some people,'" said Keroff.
The students are now installing free software on the computers, and then giving them to families that need them.
"The kids set up the computer for them, and they actually sit the people down and explain to them how to use the machine," Keroff added.
"We just show them and translate, and try our best to get them to understand," said sixth grader Bee Yang, who is fluent in Hmong.
She confessed it's sometimes hard to translate computer terms into Hmong.
"Try to think of a word that sounds just like it, so mostly that's it," said Yang.
Cater will push the students even farther, by teaching them how to trouble shoot the hardware.
"We want to be able to take non-working machines and pull the usable parts off them so that we can get a working machine out of it when we're done," Keroff said.
It's a daunting process for a first-timer.
"It was a little scary how when you pull it out, you might think the computer might not work anymore," said seventh grader William Siong. "It might die or something."
The students have raised a little bit of seed money themselves through fundraisers. St. Vincent De Paul also helped by donating computers no longer in use.
Keroff says the school is looking for more donations, of either hardware or money to purchase more computers.
Students are up to the task. They are penguins with a purpose.
"It's really nice that I'm helping the community and the world and changing it little by little," said seventh grader Kaley Pha.
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