Program Helps Youths Build Their Skills by Building Computers

WASHINGTON D.C., Jan. 24, 2003 — A school district in Colorado and Dell Computers have taken direction from Hollywood — with a slight twist — to create an innovative computer training program for middle-school youths called Dell TechKnow: If you let them build it, they will come.

The program doesn’t just teach young people how to use computers: it teaches them how to build them. A 40-hour course, Dell TechKnow students take apart and rebuild a refurbished computer, and once assembled, install an operating system. After the program is complete, the students get to take the computers home with them.

Nearly three years old, the Dell TechKnow program has also garnered support from Microsoft. Dell and Microsoft today announced that Microsoft is donating copies of the Windows 2000 operating system and Office XP for every computer used in the program.

“The Dell TechKnow program teaches students about technology and lets them build their own computer, opportunities they otherwise might not have,” says Bruce Brooks, Microsoft director of Community Affairs. “And, just as important, being exposed to some of the fun, exciting ways they can use technology to tap their own potential gets them more interested in school — and in learning in general.”

Dell started TechKnow in 2001 in collaboration with the Denver School District . The school district had begun a community training program that taught kids and adults about technology. The program was so successful, the school decided to start a second program targeted at middle school children.

Dell has since helped to expand the program nationally. Today, hundreds of students in school districts across the United States participate, including programs in Alameda, Calif; Chicago; Denver; Atlanta; Philadelphia; Laredo, Texas; Austin, Texas; Kansas City, Mo.; Trenton, N.J.; Norfolk, Va.; Detroit, and Nashville, Tenn. Schools have been selected for program via an application process. Currently, no new schools are being selected.

When the Denver School District started its computer program, it solicited donations of used computers from several sources in the area. While donations did come, many of the donated computers were too old to use.

“Before Dell got involved, some of the computers that were donated were good, and others were basically doorstops,” says Sandy Baca-Sandoval, director of After School Programming and adult education at Horace Mann Middle School in Denver. “Then we got Dell on board, and now we have much better computers. It’s allowed us to take more students.”

Horace Mann Middle School serves one of Denver’s lower-income neighborhoods; 94 percent of the students participate in the free lunch program. Baca-Sandoval says that because so many families in the area can’t afford computers, the school’s after-hours technology classes have filled a real need in the community. She adds that the unique approach to teaching about computers has proven to be especially effective.

“I think the program is popular because it provides the students with a sense of ownership,” says Baca-Sandoval. “They have an investment of time into this computer, and when the class is done, this is their computer.”

Baca-Sandoval says that being able to provide the students with software has been another key step in Dell TechKnow’s evolution. Her school has been serving as a pilot program to test integrating software training into the program.

“Recently, Dell asked us what else we needed to make the program successful, and the response was unanimous from the kids,” says Baca-Sandoval. “They wanted real software, software they could really do something with.”

Baca-Sandoval says providing the software has had an immediate impact on the program. “It’s enhanced the program tremendously,” she says. “Without the software, the students weren’t able to take advantage of their computers and use them efficiently, and they begin to lose interest.”

Baca-Sandoval said she expects the program’s focus on software to expand in the coming year. By next fall, the program hopes to expand instruction on Windows, and add classes on using Microsoft Office programs such as Word and Excel.

The program itself has been a catalyst for other technology offerings for students. They started a Saturday “Trouble-shooting Class” where students that had gone through the program could do additional work on their computers. Most come in to make upgrades to their computers, adding RAM or a modem, and the rest come in to help resolve problems they’re having.

The students also asked the school to start a computer club, which many graduates of the program take part in. The club recently began creating business cards and letterhead for teachers, which it sells at the student store. And in March, they plan to start producing greeting cards for holidays and sell those as well.

Some graduating students become instructor’s assistants in the classes. “Often the assistant knows more than the instructor,” says Baca-Sandoval. “The kids are not afraid of anything.”

Microsoft Community Affairs’ donation of Windows 2000 operating systems and Office XP to the Dell TechKnow program is part of Microsoft’s philanthropic focus, which includes improving technology access to underserved communities, strengthening nonprofits through technology, and expanding and diversifying the technology workforce. Last year, Microsoft donated US$39.9 million in cash and $207 million in software to nearly 5,000 nonprofit organizations.

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