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A Glen Burnie man rebuilt computers to help students access online lessons

Ed Witles, left, who has been repairing and repurposing discarded or donated older computers and donating them to Anne Arundel County students with the help of Annapolis High School teacher Romey Pittman, right, place computers in a car in Glen Burnie, Md. (Paul W. Gillespie/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Ed Witles, left, who has been repairing and repurposing discarded or donated older computers and donating them to Anne Arundel County students with the help of Annapolis High School teacher Romey Pittman, right, place computers in a car in Glen Burnie, Md. (Paul W. Gillespie/The Baltimore Sun via AP) (Paul W. Gillespie/AP)

In his basement and shed, Glen Burnie resident Ed Witles collected and assembled used computer parts to donate to Anne Arundel County students — all in an effort to help students get online while schools were closed statewide.

“I heard about the pandemic and school closures and started thinking about people who need technology,” Ed Witles said.

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His initial batch was a dozen donated Dell laptops and a collection of desktops. Witles decided to upgrade them for students to use. After connecting with Romey Pittman, an Annapolis High School history teacher, they worked together to get more computers in the hands of students.

Witles needs to be resourceful, searching online and taking in damaged or old computers and their associated parts.

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In this Saturday, May 9, 2020 photo, Ed Witles, right, who has been repairing and repurposing discarded or donated older computers and donating them to Anne Arundel County students with the help of Annapolis High School teacher Romey Pittman, left., looks over a laptop in Glen Burnie, Md. (Paul W. Gillespie/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
In this Saturday, May 9, 2020 photo, Ed Witles, right, who has been repairing and repurposing discarded or donated older computers and donating them to Anne Arundel County students with the help of Annapolis High School teacher Romey Pittman, left., looks over a laptop in Glen Burnie, Md. (Paul W. Gillespie/The Baltimore Sun via AP) (Paul W. Gillespie/AP)

If Witles ran into a laptop with a cracked screen, he would replace it and keep moving.

“I cast the widest and deepest net, I don’t want to say ‘I won’t take this,’” Witles explained.

Computer parts that weren’t sensitive to hot or cold temperatures would go in his shed, and the rest he kept in his basement.

By the beginning of May, he donated at least 10 fully restored computers to Anne Arundel students. He also donated a dozen more computers to students and staff at Southwest Baltimore Charter School.

The computer donations helped students’ online learning experience, Pittman said.

“For some kids, it totally made the difference between being able to do the learning and not being able to at all,” Pittman said. ”For others, I think it just made it much easier to do and less stressful.”

Annapolis High School senior Linette Luengas said a computer donated by Witles made her schoolwork less work. She relied on her phone and used to print nearly 20 pages for each of her eight classes to stay on top of her work as lessons continued online.

“I had to print all of those papers and study it, respond, take pictures and upload it. It was difficult,” the 18-year-old said.

Though she qualified for one of the 13,000 Chromebooks loaned by the school system, Luengas said getting to the pick-up location conflicted with her mother’s work schedule.

Luengas had to make it work until she received a donated computer from a Witles.

Ed Witles looks at thank you cards and notes from students who received computers in Glen Burnie, Md. Witles has been repairing and repurposing discarded or donated older computers and donating them to Anne Arundel County students with the help of Annapolis High School teacher Romey Pittman. (Paul W. Gillespie/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Ed Witles looks at thank you cards and notes from students who received computers in Glen Burnie, Md. Witles has been repairing and repurposing discarded or donated older computers and donating them to Anne Arundel County students with the help of Annapolis High School teacher Romey Pittman. (Paul W. Gillespie/The Baltimore Sun via AP) (Paul W. Gillespie/AP)

“It is a different world. When I used to do it on my phone, I would write it in my notebook and type it on my phone,” she explained.

She no longer has to do twice as much work to send in her assignments. She could even do her homework around her house or at work, which helped with her schedule. Luengas also said she no longer needed to spend money on printing.

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“It is just a lot easier than what it used to be before,” she said.

Witles is raising money online to keep helping others, a desire he had even before the pandemic began.

“I want to make a positive difference in the lives of kids,” he said.

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