Green progress bars showing "Data Recovery" slowly grow across the screens of roughly 30 laptops in a middle school wood shop where Taylor Swift songs are blaring.
Led by a man whose name tag simply says "NERD," about two dozen student volunteers are rebooting, cleaning and fixing as many as 548 laptops so the devices can have a second life.
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No longer needed by Indian Prairie Unit District 204, the laptops are 5-year-old HPs, and they're headed to the homes of families in need.
"The district has a lot of kids who can't afford a computer," said Sun Kwok, a team leader and one of the founders of the Computer Redeployment Program in District 204. "If they don't have a computer, it's very difficult for them to keep up with their peers."
Kwok, known to volunteers as "NERD," started the District 204 program in 2009 after introducing a similar effort in 2008 in Naperville Unit District 203. In District 204, volunteers who join the program every two years when the district discards older technology, already have fixed more than 700 computers.
This year, they took on laptops for the first time. Volunteers first clean the keyboards and screens of each laptop, then use a flash drive containing Windows Open Office programs and Microsoft Security Essentials to install needed programs.
Laptops with keyboards missing a key or with broken DVD drives or screens that don't work are set aside and marked for their bad behavior. "BAD PC! BAD BAD PC!" says a note that marks the pile as fair game for spare parts.
Volunteers might be kids who love tech, or future fashion design majors, such as Neuqua Valley High School graduate Laura Mishell, who was no expert on computer diagnostics and keyboard shortcuts before volunteering for the program two years ago.
"I came into it knowing pretty much nothing," Mishell said. "It just sort of sparked the interest."
Working on computers already set aside as outdated offers a low-risk environment for technology newbies to learn how to fix problems, said Kwok, whose business card says he is the "Supreme OverNerd" at Integral Corporation, a computer consulting firm in Naperville.
"It gives you the ability to work on technology without worrying about breaking it," Kwok said.
The Indian Prairie Educational Foundation supported the program with a $1,500 grant. The foundation's executive director Susan Rasmus and Kwok said it would have cost the district $50,000 to pay a company to clean and fix 550 laptops and load them with software.
"What a great opportunity for them to get hands-on experience," Rasmus said about the computer repair volunteers. "And it's great for kids who otherwise wouldn't have something."