by Andrew Keshner
Some middle school students at I.S. 528 Bea Fuller Rodgers School are preparing to take on what would make some adults feel powerless: the everyday technical glitches that foul up computers and printers.
After several months of training, the student-staffed technical support team is offering its after-school assistance to the Wadsworth Avenue school’s teachers and staff. The students take on all sorts of tasks, like hooking up Internet connections, printing school IDs, creating the school’s yearbook and overseeing the sound, lighting and technical aspects of the school’s performances – presentations like its Pie Day, spring dance performance and holiday show.
Arialis Ortiz, 13, said while the job detail may sound unexciting, it’s anything but that as real-life computer snags put student’s skills to the test. “You’re learning more by having fun,” she said. That same enthusiasm was apparent with 13-year-old eighth grader Patrick Vasquez. “I really want to learn to fix everything,” he said.
Formally dubbed the I.S. 528 MOUSE Squad, the 11-student crew works with MOUSE, a nonprofit that offers training and support for student-run help desks with elementary- through high school-age students. The MOUSE squad at I.S. 528 is one of 10 Manhattan schools working with the organization and the only Washington Heights participant.
Luz Minaya, the school’s technology coordinator and Spanish teacher, oversees the school’s team. She first started the team seven years ago and began partnering with MOUSE three years ago. She hopes students learn to be unafraid of difficult technical tasks after working on the technology team. “There’s always 101 ways to do one thing,” she said, adding that skills students learn on the team will make them more marketable in the workplace as they grow up.
Some members say they’re already seeing the benefits. For instance, Ismelda Monegro, 14, first carried over the skills she learned at school when she fixed a printer at a friend’s house 1ast year.
“I felt so proud of myself because I finally fixed something,” she said. Likewise, Mitchell Luzuriaga, 14, also said these technical skills have helped him in his everyday life, such as fixing computers for friends.
While MOUSE is ostensibly focused on technical training, the organization’s focus also builds students’ character and confidence, said Susan Schwartz, MOUSE communications director.
“They feel good about themselves with an opportunity to go and solve a problem, especially for a teacher,” she said. Team members from the school attended a MOUSE-sponsored weekend training session in November where they took apart and reassembled computers. Alexandra Reyes, 13, said the weekend session at the Access School on 35th Street was like being back at school – only more fun.
And as the team’s older members learn new skills, they are also beginning to pass along their knowledge to younger students. Mariluz Rosa, 13, said she was forced to be sure of her own skills when recently teaching a seventh-grader how to start a Gmail account.
“At first I was confused. I hope they got it as well,” she said. While the team is now made up of eighth-grade students, Minaya explained that seventh graders will have the chance to join in the spring. The eighth graders will then become the teachers for the fresh crop of MOUSE Squad technicians at that point, she said.
Educators at the school agree that the benefits of being part of the group go beyond gaining technical expertise. Norma M. Perez, the school’s principal, said participation in the technology team instilled discipline and a sense of leadership and responsibility in its members.
“It gives a sense of ownership of the school,” she said. Perez said it’s easy to watch students’ self-image grow when they troubleshoot for teachers – and sometimes herself. “You see that joy in their face,” she said.
Minaya takes factors like grades and attitude into account when selecting members but specifically looks for students in need of a nudge in finding some more self-confidence. She especially tries to bring girls onto the squad in order to help start leveling the playing field in the male-dominated world of technology. She said she’s witnessed participation in the group improve students’ grades and attitude towards schoolwork. Five of the group’s members are now in ninth-grade algebra, she said.
“It’s actually inspiring,” Ortiz said of being a part of the team and feeling like a technician as she handled computer problems. “Once you get older, you know you’re going to do all these things.”
The Manhattan Times is the bilingual newspaper of Washington Heights and Inwood.