After upgrading his home office, retired Laurel resident Mike McLaughlin had his former office equipment sitting on his dining room table where it caught the eye of his daughter, Jillian O’Brien. A teacher at Fulton Elementary School, O’Brien immediately asked if she could have one of his two old monitors to help in her work virtually teaching her fifth-grade students. She then asked her colleagues if anyone else needed the other monitor.
“That is where it began. There were definitely teachers that wanted it,” said O’Brien, who, along with her father, have started collecting used and unwanted monitors to give to teachers.
“It really makes a huge difference,” O’Brien said, of working with two monitors instead of just one. “You can see more than one thing at a time. You can see students, have a lesson, open attendance. It is a game changer.”
O’Brien learned about the national movement, Two Screens for Teachers, a project of DonorsChoose, a nonprofit, that collects funds from donors to purchase monitors for teachers on their request list. As of Monday, 27,389 teachers across the country had placed a request for a second monitor.
“We wanted to fill the need locally without the financial strain,” O’Brien said. “We wanted to help our local community without requesting money.”
She and her father now look for monitors at yard sales and thrift stores. They approach local businesses with requests, and O’Brien asked her neighbors for help on a community app. The Parent Teacher Association at Fulton Elementary started a campaign to provide monitors around the same time, O’Brien said.
“Eighteen staff members wanted one. Of the 18, my dad and I provided 13,” O’Brien said. “The adapter pieces were bought by the PTA.”
Adapters, which cost around $20 or less according to McLaughlin, are necessary to connect the monitors to the main computer being used.
The city of Laurel has also been very supportive, according to McLaughlin. During the city’s e-cycle and paper shredding event earlier this month, employees of the city’s Department of Public Works set aside 29 monitors that were delivered that day.
“It was a great idea and we were glad to help,” said Mayor Craig Moe. “We are happy to provide some monitors to the teachers.”
He cautioned, however, that the equipment was used.
“A lot of people get rid of stuff at the end of their life spans,” Moe said. 'They already got the most of it."
“They were so nice. They bent over backwards to help out,” said McLaughlin, of the public works employees who set aside 29 monitors for McLaughlin. Of the 29 monitors, 11 worked after McLaughlin cleaned and tested them.
The city also donated 16 old monitors from its city offices.
The monitors have been delivered to teachers at Laurel Elementary and Scotchtown Hills Elementary schools.
“It definitely helps,” said Melinda J. Lee, principal of Laurel Elementary School. “Teachers can manipulate whatever they are sharing on their screen and still see their class.”
All teachers in Prince George’s County school system receive a laptop, Lee said. While some of her staff are using their own personal computers, too, the additional monitors will be provided to those who requested them once the adapter cables arrive.
“It is like being a first-year teacher,” said Lee, of her staff conducting virtual school. “Teachers are learning a lot of new technology and different programs. It’s a learning curve for everyone.”
Laurel Elementary School is also acting as a distribution center for the monitors. As he collects monitors, McLaughlin drops them off at the school and teachers are welcome to come and get them on certain days.
O’Brien said that she and McLaughlin have reached out to other schools in Prince George’s County, including Laurel High School.
“Fulton, Laurel Elementary and Scotchtown, that’s only three schools,” McLaughlin said. “Individual schools should be encouraged to start their own campaign.”
McLaughlin would also like to provide students with an extra monitor, too.
“Who knows how long … we’re going to have remote learning?” McLaughlin said. “When it works, it is fabulous, but it is glitchy. There is a need.”
He and O’Brien plan to continue to collect and provide monitors for as long as necessary.
“People are looking at me like I’m crazy for still doing this,” O’Brien said. “Unfortunately, soon, our resources may dry up. Hopefully, more wells will open to us.”
Her family, O’Brien said, has always worked hard for others.
“My family is very motivated in making this world a better place,” O’Brien said. “Help each other. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Be good to the environment.”
McLaughlin, whose children, including O’Brien, attended Laurel Elementary, always reaches out to the school with donations, Lee said.
“He is such a positive person,” Lee said. “Mike is an outstanding citizen in Laurel.”