With ease, 13-year-old Jeffrey Palacios describes the computer parts in front of him—the floppy-disk drive, a CD-ROM drive, a motherboard, and keyboard. He’s seen them all before.

Palacios learned how to build a computer that his entire family now uses at home, as part of a Dell Computer Corp. program to get more poor and minority children interested in technology.

“It was a little hard work, but I did it,” Palacios said Dec. 2. “I felt good. I felt proud … This class really made me think. I didn’t know computers were this interesting.”

Palacios, who is a seventh-grader at Martin Middle School in Austin, Texas, has something in common with Dell chief executive Michael Dell, who stopped by the school to see the fruit of the students’ labor.

At the school located in Austin’s poor East Side, Michael Dell told students that he became interested in computers in seventh-grade math class. He went on to own the world’s No. 1 computer company, a $37 billion-a-year business.

“I didn’t think math was too exciting until I got interested in computers,” he said. “There’s lots of fun that can occur by learning more about computers.”

The TechKnow program began in Denver two years ago and was expanded this summer to include 12 school districts across the nation, including Dell’s hometown district in Austin. More schools will get the program in 2003. Dell donates the computers—4,000 during the 2002-2003 school year—and helps develop a 40-hour curriculum that allows teachers to show students how to take apart, reassemble, and upgrade the computers.

Students must attend class, maintain a grade “C” average, and stay out of trouble to be able to take their computer and monitor home to keep.

Sixth-grader Iris Urbano uses the computer she built for homework and surfing the internet.

“It was fun to get to put your hands on the parts. I felt happy because I could build my computer,” she said.

College was never a thought until she enrolled in TechKnow, Urbano said. Now, it’s a goal.

“I want to go to college and maybe … be an engineer,” she said.

Martin Principal Raffy Vizcaino said many of the three dozen students who thrived in the program used to be regular visitors to her office for disciplinary problems.

But in the computer class, “they were not a problem at all,” she said. “They were so excited about what they were learning. If they miss one day at all, they are out of the program. They come day after day after day.”

Austin Independent School District Superintendent Pat Forgione said the program helps children who might not otherwise have technology in their homes take computers home to use for games, homework, and family time.

It also gives the students self esteem and puts them on a path to studying science, math, and other related subjects beyond high school, he said.

“There might be a Michael Dell here. Wouldn’t that be terrific?”

Eighth-grader Derrick Ellis, who has become his family’s computer guru after finishing the program, said he plans to go to college. Friends bring him broken computers to fix.

“I guess I can start my own business,” Ellis said. “Maybe I can give Michael Dell some competition.”

Applications for the 2003 program will be available online beginning in January, Dell said. For more information, see Dell’s web site.

Links:

Dell Computer Corp.
http://www.dell.com

Dell’s TechKnow program
http://www.dell.com/us/en/k12/topics/segtopic_seg_nav_000_techknow.htm