School districts in several Washington, D.C.-area counties have put tech-savvy students to work fixing computers. School officials say they are giving the students course credit as well as hands-on experience they can use in their careers. In return, the schools get help with a growing problem facing schools across the country: How to maintain their computers with limited budgets.
In Montgomery County, Md., school leaders say they have one tech support staffer for every 600 computers. In Arlington County, Va., seven full-time employees service more than 5,000 machines. Compare these figures to the 1-to-50 ratio common in the business world, and it’s clear that tapping students’ help for tech support makes sense.
At Forest Park High School in Woodbridge, Va., the SWAT (“Students Working to Advance Technology”) team handles most teacher requests. When teachers have a problem, they fill out a form at the front office. The SWAT team even performs installations; during the summer, they set up 500 computers and saved the school $35,000.
In Charles County, Md., school officials have offered a two-hour class known as the computer internship for the past three years. The class provides nine or 10 student technicians for each high school. Some schools even equip the students with walkie-talkies as they roam the building fixing problems.
The students provide a good first line of defense against technical glitches, officials say. Without them, critical problems may get fixed, but nagging ones are likely to persist.