Faced with an expanding inventory of campus technology and a shortage of skilled hands to handle repairs, St. Martinville Senior High School built out a student help desk, where students earn professional IT skills while helping the school maintain its devices.
St. Martinville High Principal Kevin Dugas said the idea grew out of a brainstorming session with his administrative team over three years ago, as the school prepared to launch STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — programming at the school. An assistant principal, Jonathan Lane, had seen a similar program at a previous job in Baton Rouge.
“It provides them with employable skills they can use for their future but at the same time it’s a direct benefit to our school,” Dugas said.
The principal said they introduced the program that summer with a grant from Jump Start Summers, a career and technical education initiative through the Louisiana Department of Education.
Now, the training program is two-part: a school-year IT fundamentals course led by the school’s technology coordinator Pam Stelly, which is capped off by a certification test through nonprofit information technology trade association CompTIA, followed by a summer of job shadowing the school district’s IT technicians through Jump Start Summers.
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Stelly said the fundamentals course covers everything from the basics of computer hardware to securing data over networks. Once certified, the students can work on the help desk through an internship class during the school year, where they’re paid $7.25 an hour. Dugas said the school sacrificed a part-time office staff position to fund the students’ wages.
The students report to Stelly, who oversees as they log new devices into the school’s inventory, conduct repairs, run replacement parts and devices to teachers’ classrooms, and troubleshoot problems for instructors.
While they do brainstorm technical problems, the technology coordinator said a significant portion of her role is providing social-emotional support and encouragement to the students as they learn how to conduct themselves in a professional environment.
“I had a student one time and I told him, ‘You’re going to have to go to each teacher’s classroom’ and he told me, ‘Ms. Stelly, I can’t do that. I can’t talk to all those people like that.’ I told him, ‘Yes, you can. It’s just one step at a time.’ So I went with him to a couple of the classrooms and then he was able to do it,” Stelly said.
“Those kinds of skills will prevent someone from going into something that they love because they don’t feel like they have the social skills to do it.”
The student help desk has been a boon with the rapid expansion of technology on campus and around the district during the COVID-19 pandemic, they said. Stelly said the district has four full-time IT technicians to service 17 schools.
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At St. Martinville High alone, Stelly estimated there are more than 700 Chromebooks for students and staff, more than 160 computers in school labs, at least 30 computers in the school library and roughly 40 smart boards. The student help desk workers “serve as my legs” when Stelly can’t be in two places at once, the technology coordinator said.
“When teachers don’t have the technology that they need, they struggle in being able to deliver their instruction. It’s amazing to think this directly impacts helping teachers to maintain instruction. Especially now with more technology demands, it’s more important than ever that teachers have their technology working and have everything they need so there’s no learning loss to children,” she said.
David Zenon, a senior, has been with the program from the beginning. The 17-year-old said his interest in computers first sparked when he began gaming in middle school and learned easy fixes for computer glitches. He said his passion for the field grew each time he repaired a broken Chromebook screen or had to problem-solve his way through a glitch.
More than computer skills, Zenon said he’s appreciated the program because of the friendships he’s built with his peers and the district’s IT technicians, and the confidence he’s gained in his people skills. Zenon said he’s been handing down as much knowledge and helpful tips to his successors as possible during his final week on campus.
“I just realized how important that we are and the part that we play in helping the school and over the summer the school board with setting up things. Ms. Stelly and Mr. Dugas always express how important we are in helping around the school. I don’t want to be the last one and to help as much as I can,” he said.
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With graduation approaching Friday, Zenon said he feels more secure entering the job market with demonstrable IT experience and certifications. The 17-year-old said he’s considering courses at South Louisiana Community College and Dugas and Stelly are helping potentially set him up with an IT position at a local bank.
This year’s crop of students includes about five pupils from St. Martinville High, three from Breaux Bridge High School and at least one from Cecilia High School, Dugas said. The district pushed to expand the program to other schools in its second year, with Stelly teaching the students via Google Classroom and virtual sessions.
The principal said they’re exploring ways to expand the program further, from partnering with local businesses to offer internships and out-of-school work experience for older students in the program to offering repair and IT services to local businesses to generate revenue to make the student help desk self-sufficient.
That’s the model Lane’s former school in Baton Rouge employees, but Dugas said they’re a ways off from expanding because “we have enough work with just what our own campus generates.” Whatever future growth looks like, Dugas said the goal is to prepare students for the future and provide them as many opportunities as possible.
“It’s nice to see our kids excited about it and striving to be part of it…It gives them something to shoot for,” Dugas said.
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