Open Source, Open Hearts

The power of a small, dedicated group who choose to do something about it.

GUEST COLUMN | by Stu Keroff

CREDIT StuKeroff-PenguinsClubIt was 12:25 on a Thursday afternoon when I signaled Chu Fue to get the other students’ attention and start today’s meeting.

“What are we trying to do?” asked Chu Fue.

“Change the world!” replied the students.

“How do you change the world?” asked Chu Fue.

“Be crazy enough to think you can!” said the students in response.

And so began another club meeting for the Asian Penguins.

I am the technology coordinator at Community School of Excellence, a Hmong charter school in St. Paul, Minnesota. Our school population is overwhelmingly Hmong and Karenni children who are either children of refugees or refugees themselves. Over 90 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced price lunch because of family income.

“How do you change the world?” asked Chu Fue. “Be crazy enough to think you can!” said the students in response.

I am also the faculty adviser for the CSE Asian Penguins, our school’s Linux club. The Asian Penguins are the only Linux club based in a Hmong school anywhere in the world. The Asian Penguins learn to install, configure, and use Linux as their primary operating system, and have become very comfortable working with free and open source software.

The club started in 2012 with five or six kids in our after school program that would come to my room because they wanted to play with the computers. The desktop PCs in my classroom ran Linux because they were obtained through a grant from Free Geek Twin Cities, a non-profit that uses Linux to recycle computers.

Since the kids were so curious, I started teaching them software lessons about Linux, even progressing to teaching them how to install the operating system itself. It seemed a club was starting to form. The kids were Asian, the mascot of Linux was a penguin, so we decided on the name “Asian Penguins”. From there, the club has grown to 47 students today. The club is made up of Hmong and Karenni students, and has a close to even split between boys and girls.

As might be expected, our school has a Digital Divide. What we chose to do about it is something that I have not seen any other school do, but something that almost any school could do.

Making Things Happen

The Asian Penguins recycle used computers, using Linux as the operating system. We provide them for needy families whose children attend school here. As of today, we have provided 58 computers to area families, and plan to provide several more by the end of this school year.

Further, we sent 4 computers to our sister school in Thailand, gave 5 computers to an antipoverty non-profit in Minneapolis, and provided our own school with 60 laptop computers for our middle school and a few more for our elementary.

How do we do this?

First, we use all open source software, such as Linux, so we spend zero on software (free as in, free stuff). Not only do we not have to pay for it, but we are allowed and even encouraged to give away the software as much as we want (free as in freedom).

Second, we use used and recycled computers, which keeps costs down. Some of the computers were donated to us, while others we purchased with money we got through our own fund raising efforts.

Third, the students do all of the installation work on the computers. This provides them with an authentic learning experience and a community service opportunity they are not likely to find anywhere else.

As a result, this program does not cost the school anything. Why do we use Linux? A better question would be, “Why don’t other schools use Linux?”

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to email me.

Stu Keroff is Community School of Excellence Technology Coordinator and Asian Penguins Faculty Advisor. Visit: and Write to:


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