Far removed from the world of iPads for kindergartners and laptops for every student, Everton Schools in rural Missouri is struggling to keep up with the times.
Nearly 200 Everton students from elementary to high school share one computer lab stocked with outdated PCs—and at least half of his students don't have computers or Internet at home says Albert Bryant, a first year math teacher at Everton High School.
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Families that do have computers need to travel up to 45 minutes each way for any repairs.
"It's a very poor community and it's obviously very expensive to drive to the nearest town … and then pay an arm and a leg to a tech to have them fix it, and then drive all the way back home," Bryant says.
The scarcity of technology and support resources prompted Bryant to launch a new community technology initiative.
CommTech, a student-run computer repair shop based at the school, is similar to national programs such as MOUSE Squad, which trains students to serve as tech support within their schools, in that it teaches middle and high school students valuable job skills.
Burlington High School in Massachusetts established a similar operation, tapping student tech specialists to manage an influx of IT concerns associated with the school's acquisition of more than 1,000 iPads.
"It will be a triage routine, with students handling most of the questions and the IT team jumping in when needed," Pat Larkin, Burlington's principal, told THE Journal in August 2011.
Unlike MOUSE Squad and the program at Burlington, student technicians at Everton function as a business, fixing computers for residents of the surrounding towns and using the profits to make much-needed technology investments at the school.
"I know how to fix computers and want to train kids to fix computer viruses, order parts, run a business, and offer cut rates … then the community would be able to come to us and say, 'My computer is running really slowly, can you fix it?" Bryant says.
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Launched in January with the help of a grant from the Rural Schools Partnership, CommTech interviewed for two positions—a computer technician and a marketing specialist. Interested students submitted an online application and résumé to apply.
"We wanted to make it as realistic as possible," Bryant says. "We sat in the boardroom and drilled them with questions."
Dylan Clinton landed the role of PC technician. "I wasn't sure I'd even get hired," says Clinton, a 14-year-old Everton Middle School student who Bryant says had a knack for antagonizing students and landing in the principal's office.
With Bryant's supervision, Clinton repaired 15 computers during the spring semester—which meant everything from scrubbing virus-plagued machines to installing operating systems or replacing hard drives, network cards, and laptop keyboards.
"On the new stuff we would always sit together, so he would watch me and I would show him how to do it," Bryant says. "The first DVD drive that came in, I actually walked him through the steps and showed him how everything plugged in, and then the second one that came in he pretty much did it on his own."
Clinton also helped Bryant create the database CommTech uses to track customer tickets, manage purchases and receipts, and bill customers.
"He's just phenomenally gifted with this sort of stuff," Bryant says of his apprentice.
While Clinton and Bryant fix the computers in the community, the school is working to upgrade its own technology infrastructure—from servers and wireless networks to equipment—but it is an expensive undertaking. CommTech will contribute to that effort as well, Bryant says.
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"The profits we make we'll pour into the school," he says, adding that CommTech billed out $345 in repairs this semester.
That's a figure he hopes will improve when they reopen for business in the fall. Increasing their marketing efforts and bringing on more student technicians should increase their profit margin, Bryant says.
While Clinton, CommTech's first hire, won't be around to train the next crop of technicians—his family is moving this summer—he's hoping his new school will have a computer program.
Even if it doesn't, working as a technician has done more than simply teach him how to install an operating system; it's given him a career path, says the soon-to-be high schooler.
"It shows that I have potential in computer programming and the assembly of computers," Clinton says. "Now I have a dream of what I want to do. I want to go get into a good college up in the St. Louis area, and then I want to go on and pursue a career in computer technology."
See U.S. News's coverage of Technology in the Classroom.