Schools get hands-on computer help at Tech Day


November 03, 1999|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE ATHOLTON High School gym became a technology wonderland Saturday at Tech Day 99. More than 150 people -- including representatives from 15 schools -- registered to get hands-on instruction in computer assembly and repair.

The fair was sponsored by the Lazarus Foundation and Atholton High.

"Every school that participates today will walk away with at least five computers," said Lazarus founder Don Bard.

The computers came from the foundation's inventory and were loaded with the Windows 95 operating system, donated by Microsoft Corp.

"After this experience," Bard said, "they can fix computers themselves. They're developing the skills that they would need to know what to do when they get a computer donated to them."

The Lazarus Foundation also refurbished 25 computers that it plans to send to schools in flood-damaged Edgecombe County, N.C.

The nonprofit organization recycles computers and offers them to community service groups and educational institutions. Lazarus was created in 1992 by Columbians Paul Demmitt and Bard.

Bard, a consultant to the Department of Health and Human Services, knew that if he could get three or four used or broken computers, he could cannibalize them to make one or two working models.

And he knew there were groups that could not afford computers and needed them.

He estimates that Lazarus has recycled more than 1,800 computers in the past six years.

After a brief orientation, Tech Day participants made their way past computer monitors, keyboards and processing units stacked in the middle of the floor and stopped at refurbishing stations set up around the perimeter of the gym.

They made stops at stations labeled "assessment," "boot up," "software," "memory," "controller cards," "video," "floppies," "hard drives" and "quality control."

At each station, they were given instructions by foundation associates and students in the A+ course -- a computer trouble-shooting and upgrade class offered at Atholton High.

The A+ class, taught by Atholton teacher Reg Hahne and Bard, is being offered at the school for the first time this year. Atholton is the only Howard County high school to offer the course.

At the end of the course, students will be eligible to test for A+ certification in computer repair, upgrade and maintenance.

Students had to apply for the course by writing an essay on why they wanted to take it, their previous training or experience, and how the course would fit into their plans.

Forty students applied; 24 were accepted into the program.

"The kids who didn't make it, hopefully they'll come back next year," Hahne said.

William Gobar, a 16-year-old junior at Atholton, is one of those accepted. He says he didn't know anything about computers before signing up for the class.

"Technology is big nowadays," he said. "TV advertisements are always saying how they need people for these fields, so I figure, why not learn about computers?"

Some students hope to find jobs in the computer field right after high school. Others plan to further their education.

Albert Jun, 17, is a senior in the A+ program.

He worked at the assessment station with fellow student Mike Shoemaker.

"After I pass the A+ exam, I want to major in computer engineering or software maintenance in college," Albert said.

Adam Knepprath is a junior at Atholton. Although he also said he had no computer experience before becoming involved with the Lazarus Foundation two years ago, he describes himself as a "techie" with 35 computers at home.

"It's a workshop, so I can play with new things that come out," he said, adding, "Basically, I'm just fiddling around with stuff."

Last year, Adam persuaded his parents to allow him to transfer from McDonogh School -- a private school in Owings Mills -- to Atholton so he could be involved with the A+ program.

"I told my parents, `I want to go to Atholton because Lazarus is now set up inside the high school, and I'd be interested in spending more time there,' " Adam said. "They're doing a great job here. They're giving away computers. People like this idea."

The knowledge Adam has gained through the Lazarus Foundation and the A+ program has resulted in offers of internships and a job for the 16-year-old, but he plans to go to college first.

"Eventually, I'd like to become some sort of network administrator," he said. "I hear they pay well."

The Lazarus Foundation will offer a one-day workshop for people interested in learning more about computer hardware Dec. 3 at Atholton.

The cost is $45, including lunch. For information: 410-531-8485.

Houdinis win championship

The Houdinis, a team of eighth-graders from Wilde Lake Middle School, participated last week in the countywide Junior Envirothon competition -- and won the championship.

The contest took place Oct. 27 at Mount Pleasant, the Howard County Conservancy farm.

The Junior Envirothon is a competition sponsored by the Howard Soil Conservation District, open to Howard County middle-schoolers.

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