December 8, 2004
When you first call the IT Helpdesk for the Owen County School District in Kentucky, you might think you have the wrong number. The person on the other end of the line sounds a little young. The truth is, they are young. They are students in Owen County's Student Technology Leadership Program (STLP)*. The program puts students in direct contact with real-world issues and responsibilities such as handling the district's helpdesk, patching the school's computers and maintaining the IT network. It gives the school a lot in return as well.
STLP students get instructions from network administrator Jack Duncan.
The idea for the project started with Naomi Cornette, the Chief Information Officer for the Owen County School District and director for the STLP program. When she arrived four years ago, the STLP program was only a year old and had five students who worked to create basic Web sites and worked in the school's computer lab.
With the help of the district's network administrator, Jack Duncan, Ms. Cornette took the program to a whole new level, establishing a formal helpdesk for students, teachers and administrators to call, creating work orders for her students to follow and setting up a database to track and store helpdesk records and problem resolution. The students handle technical support for all four schools in the Owen County district, primary through high school, all located within walking distance of one another. That covers 678 computers and 14 servers with the students averaging over a thousand work orders a year.
This year, the STLP program seems to have gained the kind of momentum Cornette envisioned. One hundred seventy students signed up for one of the fifty seats available in the program, which features three classes a day for beginner, intermediate and advanced IT. The primary goal of the program is to give students real-life technology experience. But the cost savings has been a real plus in a tight bugetary time. According to Cornette, bringing in a level one technician to do basic IT maintance, upgrades and repair costs around $40 an hour. Cornette said that much of what her students are doing has eliminated the need for that. She estimates the cost savings to the district last year for "level one type" work to be around $32,000, the yearly salary of the technician they don't have anymore.
Owen County High School students work to patch classroom computers.
The student interest and achievement and the cost savings to the district is something that surprises Ms. Cornette. "I have been all over the state and I've seen first hand the various forms STLP has taken," said Cornette. "Because of our STLP, our district's technical needs are being addressed in a timely manner and at a low cost while giving our students job skills that they can use when they leave us. It really gives those involved with the program a great feeling."
And what about the students? According to Owen County High School senior Dustin Downey (pictured at right), who is off to college next year on a soccer scholarship, "Today, computers are essential for getting by in the real world. In college, I plan to major in communications and broadcast. The experience I'm receiving with STLP will make my transition to the technology tools used there a lot easier."
Note: Last month, Techlines told the story of how students in another STLP program in Cumberland County were using GPS devices to help their school district more effectively map bus routes. See that story here.
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