IT academy at De Anza aims to bridge digital divide
on October 21, 2015
Jakelin Santos, a junior at De Anza High School, spent Saturday morning inspecting an open computer tower. Inside she saw a mess of wires and cords. Undaunted, she started carefully cleaning it with a small dusting brush, getting it ready so she and her classmates could diagnose why the computer was here.
Santos is part of De Anza High School’s Information Technology Academy. This past weekend the academy hosted its first “Free Fix Day” of the school year in De Anza’s school cafeteria.
IT Academies are one way schools in West Contra Costa are trying to bridge the digital divide. Students learn web design and Internet and computer engineering, real skills that prepare them for college and careers, said Ben Gill, the IT academy’s lead teacher.
“You can notice a little bit of a divide between the students who have access to technology all the time in this connected society and the students who don’t,” Gill said. “Students who have access to technology at home have a much better chance of succeeding in school, so this is our way of doing our part so we can maybe just a little bit close that gap.”
On Free Fix Days, community members bring in their broken computers and electronic devices and students try to repair them. Gill added that this is unique to De Anza’s academy and gives his students real-world experience. They host four free fix days per year.
Santos said she is the most tech-savvy person in her family. Her new skills allow her to help her parents with their computer issues.
“I’m trying new things that none of them really tried before,” Santos said.
She’s always had a knack for building things and made robots with her cousin when she was younger. Joining the academy piqued her interest in learning more about engineering.
“I enjoy it because with my hands I can create something that I never thought I could create,” she said. “It feels nice to know that I can do that.”
Her classmate, Carlos Suareg, a senior at De Anza, likes the hands-on work of engineering as well. He wants to pursue computer engineering after he graduates. “It’s giving me a head start,” he said of his IT classes.
Gill said he adapted his classroom so students can use the technology they already have, such as smartphones, to complete assignments.
“It takes that pressure off them of saying ‘oh man, you know what I don’t have a computer at home,’” he said.
As a Richmond native, Gill said he’s able to share his stories of growing up in central Richmond. “It gives them a little bit of a better understanding when I say ‘hey, I feel you,’” he said.
Fix Day customers are amazed to find out high school students know how to solve their computer issues, Gill added. Being able to equip teenagers with those technology skills is his favorite part of the job.
As for the computer Santos and her classmates were dissecting, the skills paid off.
The students successfully diagnosed the problem and let the owner know: a malfunctioning motherboard.
“Knowing that I’m doing a small part to empower the next generation, that’s what keeps me coming back, these kids,” Gill said.
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