PITTSBORO — A stack of more than 60 Chromebook computers lines the walls of a classroom at Seaforth High School. Each one is a trophy of the hard work put in by the Chatham County Schools Summer Tech Team.
In just three weeks, the team of eight students has learned how to assess and fix the computers used by their peers throughout the district. The program killed two birds with one stone because it both taught students valuable information technology lessons and helped the school district repair broken laptops in preparation for the beginning of the school year.
“We provided them with experiences and networking opportunities for the next steps,” said Emma Braaten, Chatham County Schools’ chief technology officer. “But they also helped us through their work on the repairs.”
This was the inaugural year of the program, and Braaten said it was a success she hopes the district will build on for the future. The program’s final day was last Friday.
The Summer Tech Team program was made possible through a collaboration between the Chatham County Schools Career and Technical Education (CTE) program and the information technology (IT) services. The school district received a state grant through the North Carolina Business Committee on Education’s (NCBCE) Tech Team Student Connect initiative. The goal of the grant was to create a comprehensive framework and toolkit for North Carolina schools and districts to access resources for starting, implementing, and scaling a student technology support desk.
The students fixed the more than 60 computers in under 20 hours of actual repair time over the three-week program. Members of the team also received a check from the district for their work.
The other parts of the day were spent listening to guest speakers from technology companies like Cisco and Amazon Web Services, engaging in online learning modules and taking field trips. Participants visited the entrepreneurial labs at North Carolina State University, the Carolina Gaming Arena at UNC-Chapel Hill and MCNC — a data center that helps with internet infrastructure.
“It’s been really fun to learn from professionals and gain some new skills,” said Felton Burleigh, 17, a member of the Summer Tech Team. “I always had an interest in computers, and now I have a lot of practical stuff I can use too.”
Members of the team came from high schools throughout the district. Burleigh, a Seaforth student, said the small group made the teaching environment more intimate and created strong bonds between the members of the team. His fellow classmates agreed.
“One of my main takeaways is the whole teamwork aspect of this work is super important,” said Aiden Threatt, a 17-year-old member of the Summer Tech Team from Northwood High School. “Sometimes you can’t spot everything with your own eyes.”
Threatt came into the Summer Tech Team with previous computer engineering experience and had already built a computer on his own prior to enrolling. Still, he said he learned from engaging with his peers and described several occasions throughout the program where classmates pointed out things he wouldn’t have otherwise noticed like a missing headphone jack, a chip malfunction or a broken card reader.
“I signed up because it seemed interesting and it was just something to do over the summer,” Threatt said. “But the experience I gained here was a professional setting with computers, instead of just at my desk and changing out components on my personal computer.”
One of the mentors for the program, Alex Trujillo, said he was impressed at the progress the students made in such a short time period. He also works as a technician at CCS, and he said completing fixes on 60 computers in under 20 hours puts them on pace with the district’s professional IT team.
“We wanted them to experience what technicians do on a day-to-day basis,” Trujillo said. “I made the curriculum like real-life working conditions.”
Trujillo said the program was also beneficial in showing students how pervasive the field of IT is in today’s world. He said students today often can use computers because they use them from a young age, but understanding the complexities of things like back-end software and data storage can help them be prepared for careers when they get out of school.
“What really drew me to the program was that I used to be a very nerdy kid,” he said. “So this seemed like an incredible opportunity for other kids who are like I was — give them opportunities to ask questions and take them to a data center — I wanted to be on this journey with the kids.”
The program mentor said the participants had a “tremendous impact” on the school district because it helped CCS improve its own technology department and create material benefits.
Braaten said because of that impact, she hopes this program will expand in the future to have tech teams at all the high schools throughout the district.
“Students helping students can be really meaningful, and in this field it helps with future career goals as well,” she said. “There is a plan to continue to develop this for the future.”
While Braaten said there isn’t a definite timeline for expansion of a peer-to-peer tech support program, she believes this was a good first run that showed potential and desire for further engagement.
CCS is also hoping to expand its technology department in the near future, and Braaten said programs like the Summer Tech Team would help create a pipeline for the students to have viable employment in the technology space.
“Empowering the students as learners is a key piece for us,” Braaten said. “With our CTE department, we are working with each of our campuses to have students have tech internships and help support the repair needs at each school.”
She said it creates a positive feedback loop — students get paid or have internship experience in a growing technology industry and each school gets its devices repaired for students and staff.
For more information about the Tech Team initiative, visit www.ncbce.org/narrative/techteam.
Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @b_rappaport.