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Tech Apprentices
Kidspeak interviews five teens who serve as the technical support staff for their school district.
By Melissa Brown


As schools across the nation purchase hardware and software to equip their schools with the technology they need to prepare students for the future, there is a growing demand for full-time technology support staff for teachers and students. Rae Niles, Curriculum Director of Technology for K-12 schools in Sedgwick, Kansas experienced this growing need a number of years ago, and her building's principal suggested that she use students for help with technology tasks. This sparked the creation of a course called Tech Apprentices (Techies) at Sedgwick High School. Five students are chosen each year to work with Ms. Niles to answer tech support requests throughout the district. Students are required to take Computer Tech I as freshman, and the students who do especially well in that course are asked to apply to be Techies for their junior and senior years of high school. They receive elective credit for their participation in Tech Apprentices.
The "Fab Five" as they like to call themselves work together to make sure the district's computers are running smoothly each day.
We interviewed the five Tech Apprentices for the 2000-2001 school year, or the "Fab Five" as they like to call themselves. They told us about the experience and why they like the course. T.J., a junior said, "I really like this because in the future, society is going to based on technology. I consider myself lucky to learn this stuff now so that I'll be a step ahead of people in the future when technology is the dominant factor in society."
     Each of the five students is scheduled to work during one of five hours in the school day. The first thing they do each day is go to Ms. Niles' office and look at the technology requests written on the white board in her office. Requests come in the form of e-mails, phone calls, notes, or students or teachers stopping by to let her know they noticed a teacher was having trouble printing, or that a computer in one of the classrooms needs to be checked.
We asked them what they thought the benefits were of having a student tech support team. Ethan, a senior, says, "It builds a bond between the administration and the students because the administration trusts us so much to let us have the inside on most of their computers. When other students see that, it kind of builds PR between the administration and the student body I think."
     TJ, a junior, talked about the benefits to the administration of having in-house student tech support, "They get an advantage of having students do it because if they just come in and hire a bunch of people, the people they hire don't go to school here everyday. They don't know the teachers. With students doing it, you know, we're here everyday. The teachers know us. It's almost like another class, we get to learn what we're doing. So we can be those people some day that get hired to do that stuff." These students have earned the respect of the administration. Teachers even pull the Techies out of class sometimes when they have a problem they need fixed right away.

Techies serve both the school district and the community. Because the K-12 classes are housed on one campus with two buildings on one square block, Techies are able to service the entire district without leaving campus. Their services are also known throughout the community. Members of the community will call in with technical problems and bring in equipment for the Techies to look at. Many times it's a problem the students can fix.
     Techies have a wide variety of responsibilities to the district. They are called to set up computers, troubleshoot network problems, install software, repair hardware, and offer technology assistance throughout the school. They also conduct maintenance activities such as replacing bad Internet cords and cleaning mice. In addition to responding to tech help requests, they offer training to students and staff and help maintain the district Web site.

Many of them learned how to work with computers at home. Ethan said he learned a lot from his dad, "My dad works a lot with computers and I know Seth's dad does too because our parents work together. So I knew a lot about IBMs, but most of the Macs are completely different so we've learned a lot about them from Ms. Niles. It's just kind of hit and miss, you just learn as you go really."
     Aside from the technology skills students learn as a result of this experience, they also learn to work together as a team. If one apprentice does not get all of the tasks done in their hour, they communicate the tasks that need to be done to the next apprentice. In that sense, students really work together to share responsibilities and make sure that all of the technical requests are answered in a timely manner.

The tech team has access to a lot of the computers that most of the staff does not have access to. Their trustworthiness and professionalism have earned them the respect of both teachers and students. Daniel, a senior Techie says he enjoys being able to help people, "It's like a challenge to help people. It makes you feel good to help somebody if they have a problem they can't fix. That keeps me wanting to do more and help more people out."
     The opportunity to work as a Tech Apprentice has also given students the chance to be good role models for younger students. Abby says that she can see that the younger girls look up to her when she comes in to help fix a computer problem in their classroom. "Society is dominantly male, technology wise. And I'm the only girl that has done this [Tech Apprentice class], it gives me an opportunity to have little kids come up to me and ask questions. It also gives girls something to look forward to, something different for them to do because lots of times you don't think of girls working on computers like guys do," said Abby.
We asked the team if this experience has helped them in their career choices. Seth mentioned that one of the goals he is working toward now is to get Apple Certified. "If I never would have taken this class, I would have never known I could have done it [Apple Certification]. It's probably going to be quite a bit cheaper than college will be. That's going to help me out, plus, if something ever goes wrong ... I mean we've already had two computers crash this year and TJ and I fixed them."
     As for words of advice to other students wanting to reach their level of proficiency, they all agreed that experience is key to learning how to work with and troubleshoot computers. As TJ said, "One day of troubleshooting can give you more knowledge than three books about troubleshooting. You have to learn things yourself. You have to teach yourself a lot of things." The Tech Apprentices program has proven to be a successful endeavor benefiting both the students and the administration at Sedgwick High.

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