Pike County, Ky., schools are using an abundant resource to staff the help desk for the district’s computer system: the students themselves.

About 40 students from Pike County Central High School help keep the district’s 32 servers and more than 6,600 pieces of equipment running.

“We’ve had a lot of people marvel at what these kids are doing,” said Maritta Belcher, technology curriculum supervisor for the Pike County School System. “We’re really proud of them.”

Using the students saves money for the system and gives them valuable skills, said Bill Heise, the help desk’s system administrator. Heise, a former networking specialist for the Pentagon, is credited with the idea.

“Instead of going out and acquiring technically trained staff members, we’ve trained our own,” Heise said.

Students are evaluated on their performance, which counts toward their grade.

Other Kentucky school systems have asked about using the Pike County system for their own help desks, he said. The program, which began in March, is the only one of its kind in the state.

Students in the program sign a contract outlining what’s expected of them, which is essentially everything that would be required of any help desk professional.

When there’s a problem with a computer at a Pike County school, the school’s technology coordinator is contacted. If the coordinator cannot solve the problem, a call goes out to the help desk.

Students have fielded calls on everything from burning computers, to printers jammed because of gum, to a rat chewing through a network cable.

The students use basic troubleshooting techniques over the phone, such as asking if all the cables are properly connected and everything’s turned on.

If the students cannot solve the problem over the telephone, they are responsible for informing the proper people and making sure the work gets done.

The help desk is being upgraded so students eventually will be able to diagnose problems remotely over the school system’s network. IBM has been sending representatives to train help desk participants in its Netfinity network management software since Sept. 9.

Heise said the desk has received 350 calls since school opened and he expects 2,000 calls during the year.

The business and management skills learned by working on the help desk will benefit students in whatever career they choose, Heise said.

Some students in the program had previous computer experience but others were novices when they started.

“I was afraid of technology,” said student Andrea Williams. “In the first few weeks of school I’ve learned so much. It’s amazing.”

Tyler Mullins got a summer job at a local computer firm because of his experience on the help desk and plans to pursue a career in technology and computers.

“Like all teen-agers, my careers (plans) have changed,” Mullins said. “But this has stuck.”

Links:

Pike County Schools
http://www.pike.k12.ky.us/

IBM Netfinity
http://www.pc.ibm.com/us/netfinity