The nearly 300 students who attend Washington Elementary gathered in the gym Monday morning with little idea why they were there.
But the wait didn’t last long, and the gym erupted in cheers and applause as a representative from telecommunications company CenturyLink announced the donation of a mobile lab of 20 new MacBook Pro laptops and $3,800 to refurbish 30 computers already at the school, at 1044 Cook Ave.
“If we’re going to do this, we’re probably going to have to do it right,” said Jeremy Ferkin, CenturyLink’s vice president and general manager for Montana and Wyoming.
The donation provides about $28,000 in much-needed computer equipment for the school and was made through CenturyLink’s Internet Basics Program and School District 2’s Partners in Education, which pairs businesses with local schools.
“This is a huge gift because our technology here, how do I put it, it’s back in the cave days,” said Karen Ziegler, Washington’s principal.
CenturyLink is the third-largest telecommunications company in the United States and moved its regional offices to Billings last summer. Ferkin said CenturyLink immediately got involved with Partners in Education and adopted Washington after learning it was one of the only schools in town without a partner.
“It’s especially important because the technology levy did not pass,” he said. “Technology can clearly change these kids’ lives.”
U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., was on hand for the presentation and told the kids that the donation can help not only them, but also their parents and grandparents.
“That’s phenomenal,” he said. “It’s a great gift. Why are they doing this? To help you guys and build a better future.”
Representatives from the offices of Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus were on hand to read statements sent along by the two.
Tester wrote that the donation is “giving folks the resources they need to reach their potential,” while Baucus applauded CenturyLink’s commitment to the students.
Ziegler said the school also holds monthly training sessions at night for the kids’ parents to provide access to technology and teach various skills such as resume building and Facebook use and that the donation helps those efforts.
She said they plan on using one of the laptops as a station for parents.
Since partnering with the school, 20 CenturyLink employees have been spending five days a week there working with students on reading, math and other subjects.
“These people have really and truly been a gift to our school,” Ziegler said.