Indiana high school kids learn IT skills by fixing and servicing computers
This feature first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
The Greek historian Plutarch wrote, “The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.” The inference is that lighting wood on fire will begin to provide light and knowledge to young minds. If this is true, then Brock Maust has a full-blown four-alarm blaze raging at Goshen High School (GHS) in Goshen, Ind.
The blaze is the school’s Computer Peer Repair Program. The program, supervised by Maust and run completely by students, is responsible for maintaining 2,500 laptop computers. As an added bonus, the program has now reached the stage of being self-funded and is preparing students to earn IT certifications.
In 2011, the Goshen Community Schools District recognized the importance and advantages of utilizing technology for learning and work, and set a goal of making their entire student body computer literate.
The District decided to phase in a one-to-one program of computers and students. They would begin by purchasing laptops for the incoming freshman class, then each new freshman class to follow would receive its own machines. By the fourth year, all students would have laptops on which to do their homework and class assignments.
Maust was busy teaching engineering and business classes — and also coaching both the boys and girls track teams — when his principal and the district superintendent approached him about organizing and managing the program.
The energetic teacher and coach, however, thrives on and enjoys challenges. His philosophy, he said, is “to not put a lid on my cup — I’m always looking for opportunities to grow and do new things.”
Maust believes he was chosen to run the program because of his engineering background, and also because “the program was not built yet. The plan was simple: ‘Have every student learn to use a laptop to enhance their educational experience.’ I have a degree in engineering technology, so I was able to grasp the Input-Process-Storage-Output and Feedback for the vision.”
Learning on the fly
After agreeing to run the program, Maust asked for clarification on what form it should take and exactly how it would work. The administration’s response was that they would support his efforts. Their only piece of advice was, “Just don’t let the building burn down.”
“The principal and superintendent had complete faith in us,” said Maust. “They knew we needed change, and that technology was growing at an exponential rate. There was no book we could turn to. We definitely learned to fly the plane as it was being built.”
District officials understood that Maust would have to build his program from the ground up and permitted him to hand-pick nine students to help him out. He selected students from his classes who he knew had a basic knowledge of computers and, more importantly, could work with and for him as needed.
Feeling that his students needed a more qualified teacher, and realizing that he didn’t have the knowledge base, Maust spent $1,000 of his own money to take a course that would help him better teach computer repair. “My wife wasn’t too pleased when she saw the bill,” he said laughingly.
The original vision for the program was for Maust to teach a computer repair class and supervise his nine students in simple troubleshooting for 500 laptops, as well as the boxing up of any machines that needed to be sent to the manufacturer for repair. As with a lot of fires, things quickly escalated. With the challenge of managing so many laptops it soon became obvious to Maust that his students could help conduct basic repairs.
He also realized that if the program were to become an authorized on-site repair location for the computer manufacturers, then it could be one-hundred percent self-funding. He met with administration, showed them the financial advantages, and laid out a curriculum to prepare students to earn the required IT certifications. District officials liked the idea and told him to keep going.
Full speed ahead
As with any new endeavor, this one brought many unforeseen challenges. “There were basic needs like shelving for 500 laptops, and scanners to help us check that many laptops in and out in a short period of time,” Maust said.
His team also had to develop a process of tracking when laptops needed to be repaired (yellow tape), when they were waiting for parts (red tape), and when they were good to go again (green tape). Each obstacle or problem was flagged — and then solved — as it arose. “Once we started to identify trends, then we began to create a vision and prepare for the problems before they happened,” Maust said.
The second year of the program meant an additional 500 laptops, and even more repairs. As more students enrolled in Maust’s classes, faculty began to see the positive impact of computers in the classroom. English, math and music teachers praised the ability of students to take notes, practice drills and use videos to learn new concepts.
By the end of the second year the district hired three of Maust’s students to help the program prepare for the coming school year. Under supervision, the students spent the summer repairing laptops and pulling computer cables throughout the building.
The program has been off and running ever since. For the current school year, the program is responsible for maintaining and servicing 2,500 laptops. The group also recently became certified to repair HP and Dell devices, and their work is now completely self-funded.
“As an on-site repair center, the program generates income that allows us to purchase more tools, equipment and storage capacity,” said Maust. “We are able to pay back the district for all of the equipment they supplied us, with and still make enough to help the district.”
Turning problems into assets
When dealing with so many laptops and teenagers, of course, there are the typical tech-related challenges — instances of unauthorized or inappropriate downloads, damaged or lost laptops, and so forth.
Maust has a very effective way of dealing with these issues. He focuses not on the technology, but on the student. “There will always be someone who wants to hack — a cow that gets out of the pasture,” he said. “We quickly identify the student and figure out why they did it, and then we focus on helping them learn and understand why they can’t do certain things.”
This focus on the student has been effective. “When a student does something wrong you have to implement discipline, but we do more than that,” said Maust. “If a student somehow gets ahold of administrative rights to the system, I’ll invite him to attend my class and teach him how to turn his skills around and make some money.”
Many of Goshen High’s students come from family backgrounds that lack portable computing devices at home, and they need to learn how to utilize them in an appropriate manner.
For some students, the program can be life changing. Jorge Reyes is a senior who credits the program for turning his educational experience around. During his freshmen year he was written up 19 times for disciplinary infractions.
During his sophomore year Reyes started taking the computer courses — and had just three disciplinary write-ups. “When he came on board with us, we saw a passion,” said Maust. “During his junior year, Reyes had zero disciplinary issues and became the program’s first ‘on-site’ computer repair manager. He has the responsibility to organize, order and manage all ‘on-site’ repairs.”
“I was on a bad path up until I found the computer repair program and was able to apply myself to something I grew to really enjoy,” said Reyes. “I am forever grateful to Mr. Maust. You can always turn things around and change your future!”
In addition to teaching students to work with computers, Maust’s program includes a hefty dose of the real-world skills they will need as they enter the workforce. Dealing with others when troubleshooting laptops, for example, the students have to develop interpersonal skills.
According to Maust, students “enhance their knowledge of current technology, ethical judgment and decision making, oral communication, data/statistics, organization, critical/analytical thinking and their ability to work with others through the onsite repair program.”
This year, Maust has more than 120 students enrolled in his computer courses, which they can take as a requirement or an elective, and many are earning IT certifications. His goal is for students to earn several certifications during their four years at school.
The program utilizes TestOut courseware to prepare students for TestOut’s PC Pro, Network Pro, and Security Pro courseware, as well as CompTIA’s A+, Network+, and Security+. These certifications are useful for students who want to work in computer repair, tech support, and IT infrastructure and security. Since the program is self-funding, it also pays for the cost of the certification exams.
The District has ambitious plans to expand the program. In the 2016- 2017 school year, it is proposed that the program will troubleshoot and maintain more than 6,000 devices district-wide. They will also open an on-site repair facility at the middle-school level. That particular project has been under the direction of Goshen’s technology associate Ron Lambdin — with the assistance of Jorge Reyes.
Maust is very appreciative of Reyes’ role in the middle-school expansion, “He has become the most vital part of our future vision by becoming our very first ‘off-site’ computer repair manager. An amazing adventure for this young man!” Reyes recently joined the district’s middle-school staff as an intern to help build the foundation for their on-site repair program.
The latest proposal is that, during the 2017-2018 school, year the district will create a community-wide co-op so that other districts can have students who are interested in IT certifications and tech support take courses at Goshen High.
The purpose will be to help those students earn IT certifications and return to their own schools where, with the assistance of Goshen’s ‘offsite’ managers, they can establish on-site repair facilities. “This is the reason I get up in the morning, this is my passion” said Maust. “This will allow other school districts in our community to enhance, flourish and grow like we have. They can learn from our struggles and our journey.”