September 3, 2014

Chester Co. students working as district IT interns

Five students are working as interns in the Chester school district, gaining work experience and academic credit while assisting the IT department with the district’s growing technology needs.

It’s not easy keeping up with the technology needs of a school district these days. In Chester County, the district’s 1,700 student tablets, hundreds of additional staff tablets and classroom technology tools such as computers and Promethean smart boards require a lot of attention.

In an effort to narrow the gap between the amount of technology and the limited number of staff members qualified to service it, the Chester Career Center has begun hiring high school students as “interns” who earn credit and a stipend while helping the informational technology staff keep up with the demand.

The group of five young men has only been at work for three weeks, but already teacher Jamie Brock is “amazed” by the skills they’ve developed and how well they’re fitting into their new roles. They spend half of the class period each day doing traditional classroom learning, then spend the second half working on district devices and technology.

“In this time period, we’ve dissected computers, labeled their parts and set computers up for Promethean boards,” Brock said.

The students also have been preparing 1,700 tablets for deployment to every one of the district’s high school students by installing software, downloading updates and making sure all the devices are charged and working properly.

Students in the program, called SWAT – Students Working to Advance Technology – say they’re having fun and already learning a lot.

‘I want to do computer science’

Chester High School senior Temaris Dixon said it only took one week as a SWAT member to change his mind about his career goals.

“I used to want to study mechanical engineering but now I want to do computer science,” Dixon said.

Dixon hopes that the Chester County school district will hire him over the summer to do IT work, because he will have had a year of experience on the devices used throughout the district.

One of Superintendent Agnes Slayman’s goals for the SWAT program is to train people to be qualified enough to return to work in the district, said district spokesperson Brooke Clinton.

At the end of just one semester, SWAT members will be ready to take their A+ certification test – required for most IT jobs, Brock said.

“The certification gives them a heads up,” said Lee Green, director of the career center. “This puts our students in the best position moving forward.”

For their semester of work, each student receives a $500 stipend, part of which should go toward the fee to take the certification test, Green said. If the students were to graduate from high school, then attend York Technical College to get certified, they would have to spend several hundred dollars for preparation courses in addition to the test fee.

‘Value of professionalism’

Beyond the certification and skills, Brock said the biggest thing his students are learning is how to work in a professional environment.

“They’re going to have an edge because they’re going to know the value of professionalism,” Brock said. “We’re in (the classroom) to do a job.”

SWAT member Reid Jacobs, a senior at Great Falls High School, said sometimes it is hard to work in a classroom when his fellow students are in there, trying to distract him.

“You’ve got to remember it’s a professional environment,” Jacobs said.

For the first semester, there’s just one group of Level 1 SWAT members, made up of students from Chester and Great Falls high schools, Green said. Next semester, these students will advance to Level 2 and new students, including some from Lewisville High School, will make up a new group of Level 1 SWAT members.

The district has big plans to expand the program, Clinton said. Slayman said one day, she’d like to assign a high school intern to each school in the district.

For now, Brock said he’s happy to be using talented high school students to supplement the district’s technology needs while they gain valuable experience and education.

“Our technology needs in this district have tripled in the last two years,” Brock said. “In the high schools, we’ve got these talented students, so why not give them work-based experience and utilize their skills?”

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