New Education Program Brings Hardware Technology Training to Boys & Girls Clubs of America

REDMOND, Wash., Sept. 17, 2003 — With the school year underway, members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America are adding a new class to their standard fare of fun activities in the gym, game room and art room: introduction to network administration.

Skill Tech II, a program to be offered at more than 1,000 sites across the U.S. by Boys & Girls Clubs of America, provides children ages 6 to 18 with a curriculum to teach the basics of hardware and networking. Designed for both English- and Spanish-speaking children, the program provides a variety of hands-on exercises designed to teach students such skills as reconfiguring hard drives, building and troubleshooting computers, and even mapping out a local area network (LAN).

Skill Tech II is the second installment of a computer-skills program designed to increase technology literacy among members of Club Tech, an initiative supported by a US$100 million, five-year partnership with Microsoft. Club Tech is a major component of the companys Unlimited Potential (UP) program to help bridge the technology skills gap in underserved communities around the world. The project-based instruction modules are designed to teach the students skills needed for careers in technology.

Curriculum materials are being shipped this week to more than 1,000 Boys & Girls Clubs of America that currently offer the Club Tech program.

“Kids in a club use technology differently then in school,” says Dan Rauzi, senior director, Youth and Technology Programs for Boys & Girls Clubs of America. “In school, they are generally using computers for a specific task. In a club, kids have a chance to explore more on their own. All Club Tech programs are designed to approach technology in a fun and interactive way.”

Texas Rangers baseball star Alex Rodriguez visited Jose Cuevas (L) and Daysi Ramirez (R) at a Club Tech in Chicago in July.

Because over 20 percent of the members of Boys & Girls Clubs of America speak Spanish as their primary language, Skill Tech II materials were created in that language as well as English. This is the first program offered in multiple languages, an undertaking that Rauzi says the organization hopes to repeat frequently in the future.

The program’s predecessor, Skill Tech I, taught students basic about word processing, spreadsheets and some Web browsing. The coursework was project-based, so Rauzi says the children would tackle projects such as polling fellow club members about their favorite

music artists, then creating a

Web site and reports about the study, all the while developing their technical skills.

“Microsoft has worked in partnership to create a program that involves young people in learning how technology can be used in their daily lives and as a tool to create opportunities,” says Linda Testa, program manager for Microsoft Community Affairs, “In order to unleash the possibilities that technology has to offer, we need to move beyond simple access to computing to a more robust learning-based program.”

Skill Tech II focuses more on the hardware, on networking and building computers. “Providing opportunities for career exploration is one of our primary goals,” says Rauzi. “Hopefully, this whets their appetite and teaches them a bit more about what a career in IT is like.”

To define the learning goals for Skill Tech, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Microsoft did a study three years ago that looked at what kind of technology training different public school districts were providing. From that, they developed a list of technical skills that a young person should acquire as he or she moves through school. That formed the basis of the course work developed for Skill Tech I, and now Skill Tech II.

“We can’t do everything, but we picked things we could do well,” says Rauzi.

Skill Tech II program materials will eventually be distributed — via CDs — to all the 3,300 clubs across the U.S. and on U. S. military bases around the world. The program provides a series of learning modules that focus on key technology issues. Each module has an online component, which a student can complete alone at his or her own pace — and a series of off-line activities that involve others in the Club and staff.

“The e-learning component was important, because some of our instructors aren’t as tech savvy as others, so the kids can learn the skills online and the staff can learn to,” says Rauzi.

The training materials were developed by a third-party curriculum developer, using the guidelines created by Boys & Girls Clubs of America and support from Microsoft. “Our relationship with Microsoft is special because on the one hand they’re always there to provide guidance when needed, while encouraging Boys & Girls Clubs of America to take the lead on the program development. It’s been great to work with Microsoft on this,” says Rauzi.

The program is divided into three age appropriate levels with eight sessions to each level. Each age level has one session devoted to technology and careers. In the younger groups, the career piece focuses on how technology is used in many different careers. The older age groups learn about specific careers in technology.

Once clubs begin offering the Skill Tech II programs, Rauzi says the next step is to test the effectiveness of the new program. Students will do self-assessments after completing courses, and some clubs will also track a sample of members’ grade data.

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