Some students at Fort Frye High School in Beverly, Ohio, are becoming quite knowledgeable about computers while saving their school district thousands of dollars.

Students in the school’s advanced industrial technology class are custom-building their own computer systems, helping to increase the number of computers in schools throughout the Fort Frye district.

“Some of these kids were really scared when they started this, and now they have more confidence and are getting really good at it,” said industrial technology teacher Andy Ring. Brooke Buckley, technology coordinator for the Fort Frye school system, said the district was able to save more than $30,000 by building its own computer systems. With help from other funds, including private donations, the school system was able to build the computers for half what they would have cost brand-new, Buckley said.

According to Buckley, the project had two main goals. The first was to give Ring’s technology classes their own lab. Before the computer-building instruction, his students had been sharing a computer lab with the rest of the school. Ring said his students now have 10 Pentiums for their own use.

The district also wanted to get rid of its old, slow, unreliable 486 machines, Buckley said. The industrial technology class has replaced every one of these old computers and donated some of the new units to the local elementary school.

Funding for the project came from SchoolNet Plus, an Ohio technology program that initially provided funding for schools to get wired and later moved into funding computers in schools.

“Our technology coordinator was looking for a way to stretch the dollar,” said Ring, adding that the eight students enrolled in the industrial technology class have built 49 computers to date.

“I always wanted to learn [how to do this] but never had the chance,” said 18-year-old Blake McCurdy, a senior from Beverly, about 80 miles southeast of Columbus. “Now, kids won’t have to wait to get on computers.”

The students, some of whom wouldn’t have known how to open a computer case before the training, built the computers from the casing up.

Ring started by talking about the components of a computer and how they all work together.

“Then I put a machine together with them, and we just continued on through,” he said. “The first one took about three class periods. At the end we had them down to one computer per class, per student.”

“We knew we wanted those 49 computers to be very high quality,” said Buckley. She bought parts for the students to build Intel Pentium III machines, and students were in charge of installing video cards, sound cards, hard drives, memory, the motherboard, the processors, CPU fans, network cards, CD-ROM drives, and 3.5-inch floppy disk drives.

Ring laughs at how many students come to class telling him they now poke around inside their home computers.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback,” said Buckley. “When we first told the kids what they were going to be doing, they were like, ‘How do you think we’re going to do this?’ But Andy Ring just worked with them, and they eventually became comfortable with the process.”

Ring and his students built the systems working side by side, installing hardware into the casing bit by bit and component by component.

After a couple of weeks, Ring said, he found many of his students working independently, and systems were completed in just a matter of days.

“I had a couple of students express interest in computers as a career when we first started, and this has reinforced that for them,” said Ring. He also said interest in the advanced industrial technology class has taken off.

“I had one kid talking to me just the other day, and he kept saying how ‘cool’ it was that he could do this stuff,” said Ring.

And there’s another benefit to training students to build and repair computers: While kids receive invaluable experience, the district gains a knowledgeable resource. Now, students can help the school with their computer expertise, fixing broken machines and installing software.

“Obviously it is cost-effective to have a group of kids with these skills, but more important is the knowledge this training gives the students,” said Buckley.

Ring said he thinks there might be enough interest to develop a class geared toward computer hardware and upgrades.

The computer systems easily can be improved in-house, he said: “If we want to make upgrades in two years, we won’t have to go out and buy new computers.”

The district is looking for funding to keep the program going for another year, as it’s an expensive class to maintain.

“The state has cut SchoolNet funding for the next year. That means there won’t be any money coming down for equipment, so we are looking to other sources for funding,” said Buckley.

“We get better discounts if we buy 49 computers than if we just buy a couple,” she said. “It would be great to come up with another $30,000, but we’d settle for $20,000.”

Links: Fort Frye Local School District