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During third period at Granite Bay High School, located about 25 miles east of Sacramento, Calif., two freshmen walk across the quad from Room 505 to the nurse's office.
But this visit, they don't need the nurse's help. The nurse needs their help. Her printer jammed, and Tech team members Paul Zajac and Patrick McKenzie are on a mission to solve the problem.
After they fixed the printer, Patrick said, "It's satisfying that we're helping the school and putting our tech skills to use."
And that's what Granite Bay Information Technology — or GBiT — is all about. The 22 students who run the elective IT course are gaining real-world business experience by working with customers, selling ads for the school website, and managing groups and projects.
In this class, which is really a business, teacher Zach Weidkamp interviews students to find out their strengths and what they want to learn. Each term, he hires three veteran students to manage the business' departments: Web, Management and Development (M&D), and Tech.
“My only job as a teacher or boss is to oversee and shape what they do, suggest and make the hard final calls on a lot of stuff," Weidkamp said. "But I try to lead by example and then have them do the rest of the leading.”
M&D manager Brandon Sodenkamp makes sure his team has work to do and starts new projects that will save the school money. Those projects include researching open source software such as OpenOffice that the class can support, as well as the Linux operating system.
While Sodenkamp may be the manager, the students on his team have the opportunity to take the lead on projects, which allows them to gain management experience as well, said freshman Kelsy Green, the only female in the class. And by joining GBiT, Kelsy met the principal, who she probably wouldn't have met otherwise, and has developed her communication skills.
The M&D team helps manage the school website, spreads the word about GBiT and trains teachers on tools including Blackboard, Sodenkamp said.
"We bring them to us to basically prevent problems in the first place," he said.
When the teachers do have problems, however, they e-mail the tech team, Weidkamp said. Within 24 hours, the students respond, and they make their tech calls during the 90 minutes they have in third period GBiT, as well as occasional lunch and after school time. The business is so integrated into the high school that if it ever disappeared, campus operations would wind down to a slow grind.
"We are able to fix a lot of small technical issues from a basic to a mid-level type tech call, which helps take and relieve pressure off of our district technology team, the professionals that don’t need to be bugged with, ‘Oh, my speakers aren’t working,' or 'My mouse isn’t working' type of thing," Weidkamp said. "So that saves a lot of time for them, money and time.”
At the moment, tech manager Justin Toms is the longest-standing member of the business with five terms under his belt, and he said he enjoys being in business.
"I always seem to learn something new technologically," Toms said, "and also interacting with teachers, you won't get that kind of experience anywhere else, teachers learning from you."
The students in this class don't learn stuff that they can't apply. If they have a problem, they have to solve it because it's their job, senior Andy Geyer said.
While they do have some hard core book reading assignments and quizzes, a lot of the grading comes from Intel-based performance reviews. When the class started in 2000, the school had a connection with Intel, and the company helped lay out the groundwork of how the class would run and the business aspects of it, especially grading, Weidkamp said. At the end of each term, the boss, manager and peers of every student evaluate their performance, which is compiled into a grade.
Geyer's dad retired from Intel, and now, he meets with his son and Erik House, sales manager in the M&D squad, each week to discuss advertising and marketing strategies. Whenever they can, they make sales visits to local businesses.
"It gives you a lot more business experience than just going to school," Geyer said.
One week, the sales team brought in $350 from their efforts, House said. The sales team is a new section that works with the M&D group to develop sales material and with the web group to place ads on the site.
This term, House created a sales pitch that he's proud to share.
"This is going to be used for years, I hope," he said.
While some top-notch companies pay more than $10,000 to run their sites, the school has a phenomenal website that students run, said Brent Mattix, assistant principal of technology. And that website generates a lot of traffic because it's the school's primary method of communication, he said.
This year, Granite Bay High transitioned to online class registration, which the web team wrote the code for and built from scratch. Through projects such as online registration, Mattix has seen the GBiT members improve their skills over the past few years.
“I've watched these kids mature and really become students that are already ready for the business world," Mattix said, "which is fantastic."
In addition to updating the school site, the web group works on community as well as business websites. And that experience, along with the experiences of the other class teams, gives them opportunities to support businesses, community members and teachers.
“A number of schools have technology courses where kids learn about tech," Mattix said, "but this course offers them the opportunity to actually practice their employability skills and go out and work with real customers, which is a huge benefit to our staff as well as the students."
Many of the kids have parents who work for big technology companies such as HP and Intel, House said, and they talk to the class and give them advice. Weidkamp brings in people from the industry, including parents, to talk about their experiences so that the students will see what options and career paths they have to choose from.
"It's hard to really know what's out there unless you have the exposure to it," Weidkamp said.
Next year, Weidkamp will have a new class called Information Technology for a Global Society (ITGS) inside GBiT, which will study how technology influences society. Through ITGS, Granite Bay is the third or fourth school in the U.S. that is attempting to offer the pilot International Baccalaureate Career-related Certificate.
ITGS will involve more textbook work and discussion of security issues in the news such as the Lower Merion School District case where administrators operated student laptop webcams remotely.
“They’re able to take all these things that we learn," Weidkamp said, "and the goal is to be able to piece these things together and understand everything in more of a global sense.”
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