During his junior year at Altoona High School in Altoona, Wis., Sawyer Wendt attended the school career fair and was drawn to the school district’s technology department booth.
The tech department was hiring paid student interns to help with device repairs, and when Wendt started naming the different parts of the Chromebook that were displayed on the table, they were impressed and encouraged him to apply for the job.
Wendt applied and started working as a student intern the summer after his junior year. Now he’s a freshman at Chippewa Valley Technical College studying IT software development but continues to work as an intern for the district’s tech department.
“I saw [the booth] and that was really the only thing that spoke to me,” Wendt said. “I’ve been dealing with tech ever since I was little. It’s essentially my thing—I’m the tech guy in the family.”
Thanks to federal pandemic-relief funds, most school districts across the United States now have 1-to-1 computing environments in which every student has a school-issued learning device. The federal relief money will soon run out, and district tech leaders are focused on how they’ll continue to provide the 1-to-1 computing environment.
Hiring students like Wendt to help with the repair process is one way districts are ensuring the sustainability of their 1-to-1 programs. It extends the lifespan of devices, especially as more district leaders report that one of the biggest challenges with 1-to-1 programs is students damaging or destroying devices.
“We realized that we could do [repairs] much quicker and more efficiently [than if we outsourced them],” said Sarah Radcliffe, the director of future-ready learning for the Altoona district. The students who do it “absolutely love it. They like taking stuff apart and seeing what’s inside. So we’re able to also fill a need for some kids who need that kind of hands-on work.”
‘It’s a cost-savings’
The student interns, who work during their study hall period, are trained on how to diagnose a device problem and how to repair it. Mostly they work on student Chromebooks, but sometimes they also get to help diagnose and repair classroom devices, such as desktops and smart boards. Some interns also work during the summer to help the tech department with restocking the devices, according to Jevin Stangel, a district IT technician and one of the staff members who oversees the interns.
Wendt, who’s been an intern since the summer of 2022, has gotten responsibilities beyond Chromebook repairs. He helps manage the ticketing system, which is how students and staff request repairs, and helps track down missing devices. He also has a long-term project to map out the district’s Wi-Fi coverage to figure out where more signal is needed.
The interns are paid between $15-$16 to be competitive with other part-time jobs that students could choose from. “It’s tough when some fast food restaurants are paying a lot of money, [but] we also talk about the benefits of being able to put an internship on their resumes,” Radcliffe said.
Other districts have similar ways of engaging students in the repair process, according to a report from the Consortium for School Networking. In the nearby Chippewa Falls district, where Radcliffe used to work, there’s a Chromebook repair class that students can take. In Illinois’ Yorkville school district, Executive Director of Technology Don Ringelestein said he also has student interns working on device repairs.
Some districts might find it challenging to start a paid position, Radcliffe said, but she’s been able to show how the student intern program is a cost-effective way of sustaining 1-to-1 programs.
For instance, the work that student interns help with “fluctuates enough that it doesn’t warrant its own position,” and hiring a part-time technician would cost more, Radcliffe said. It’s also difficult to find IT employees who want to work in a school district, because tech companies can pay them a higher salary. With student interns, there’s less turnover because they stay for the whole year.
The student interns free up the other tech staff members to work on more complicated hardware. For instance, Stangel, who started in February, said now he mostly works on teacher-related tech issues, and he’s had more time for professional development.
“That’s an extremely beneficial service to our school that I don’t even think the kids realize,” Radcliffe said.
‘Creating tomorrow-ready citizens’
Student interns benefit from the work-based learning opportunity, as well, according to district tech leaders who have some kind of student tech-repair program.
“One of the things that we pride ourselves on in Altoona is creating tomorrow-ready citizens,” Radcliffe said. “We’re looking at their learning opportunities right within the building and how those translate directly to making them ready for what is next for them.”
One of the challenges is finding the kids who are interested in the work. “It’s not always exciting work because it can be repetitive, so you have to have the right kind of kids who are really interested,” Radcliffe said.
Wendt said his experience as a student intern has been very useful and that he’s learned a lot about repairs and software.
“I like it quite a lot,” Wendt said of the internship. “I’d say if I had to choose a job this would be high on my list simply because it’s with my interest.”