When we transitioned to distance learning, distributing laptops and hotspots to all students was fairly easy. The challenge was the increase in requests to the Learn4Life information technology (IT) help desk. The staff had been serving about 2,800 employees with tech problems. Now, the IT help desk needed to respond to 23,000 students as well. So, they turned to their own students in the IT career technical education pathway, building a corps of interns to support fellow students and staff with help desk requests – with great success.
“The program is working remarkably well and we’re so proud of our students,” said Nick Carlson, IT teacher. “Just imagine the confidence boost when a student can solve problems for a teacher or principal and be zealously thanked for it. Especially for many of our at-risk students who come to us behind in credits or having dropped out. The realization that they are good at something is huge, and it keeps them excited about staying in school.”
Jacob G., for example, came to Learn4Life two years ago, struggling with interpersonal skills and a low self-image. He enjoyed IT and started to blossom and gain self-confidence. He was one of the first IT interns and excelled at troubleshooting for teachers and other students. Recently Carlson helped him look for paying IT jobs, draft a resume and practice mock interviews. Jacob applied for a help-desk job at Lockheed Martin and was hired on the spot! He’s making good money, and with Learn4Life’s flexible schedule, he can continue earning his high school diploma.
Carlson points out that when teenagers start earning money, there is a risk that they may think it isn’t necessary to finish school. “We emphasize that they must keep completing core credits or they can’t participate in the IT pathway or internship,” he explained. “Students learn that one job is not a career path and a high school diploma is essential to succeed in life.”
The IT pathway at Learn4Life is robust, offering 11 key IT certifications including CCNA, the highest certification for the industry. Most of its graduates are either employed in the field or in college. The past two years, IT students competed in the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot competition, finishing in the top 6 percent in the nation.