A group of low-income high school students is learning how to build computers in a UW class–and they will get to keep the product of their labors.
The students, 10th- through 12th-graders from Nathan Hale and Cleveland high schools in Seattle, are enrolled in Upward Bound program. This federally funded initiative prepares low-income students, or those whose parents lack a college degree, for success at a college or university. The students typically spend six weeks in the summer on the UW campus and receive high school credit for advanced academic work. This is followed by weekly classes throughout the school year and extensive activities about how to get into and succeed in college. Students enter Upward Bound in the 9th or 10th grades and remain in the program until high school graduation.
“We know that computers are vital to success in college,” says Karen Morell, Upward Bound director. “The Upward Bound students love using the technology. We found that we couldn’t get the students out of the UW computer lab. And we knew when they returned to high school, access to computers was going to be a problem for them.”
Dave Wolczyk and Byron MacKenzie, two Upward Bound instructors, realized that the computer skills the students had acquired over the summer would deteriorate without use. So this fall, they offered 31 students a chance to learn more about how computers work and how they are put together.
They meet once a week after school for a lecture and every other week on Saturday for a laboratory session. They’ve learned basic electronics and computer building and maintenance techniques. This winter, they practiced assembly techniques on parts salvaged from old computers.
In February, the instructors divided them into work groups and they spent a day assembling their own computers. “The students said the assembly a bit anticlimactic,” Wolczyk says, “because it wasn’t that hard. That was one of our goals–to give them a machine that they feel comfortable working on and upgrading.”
Wolczyk and MacKenzie have spent the rest of the spring helping the students install the operating systems and software.
“I’ve been impressed with the dedication of the students and how much time they’ve put in,” says Morell. “They’ve done an amazing amount of work in a short period of time and they have done this after school.”
The computer parts have been purchased with funds for instruction provided by the U.S. Department of Education’s Upward Bound grant and special support from CompuCare of Seattle.
Although the computers will be ready to take home this Saturday (April 10), a few obstacles remain. The funds available have not permitted purchase of anti-virus software. In addition, although the computers are ready for Internet access, many of the students’ families are not able to afford monthly Internet access fees.