With a school-wide computer upgrade in the works, Perry High School in Perry, Ohio, decided to hand the job over to a very specialized work force: its own students. So, in 1998, the school reconfigured class schedules and arranged for extensive training in network, software, and hardware maintenance so that students could take over the job of keeping the school's computers running. The result was Perritech, a student-staffed company organized to handle all of the school's computer needs.
To get up to speed, students received world-class training in Microsoft, Cisco Systems, and Comptia networking with software and hardware provided by New Horizons, a Cleveland-based technology training company. The student-managed company now services the school's 1,600-desktop-computer network as it offers its students continued training and experience in hands-on high tech.
First, school officials had to convince industry officials that its students could handle an expedited training program packing into six weeks what adults had been learning over two years. Working with the New Horizons Computer Learning Center, the students proved that they could easily attain certification in six weeks.
"My instructor was a little skeptical at first," laughs Devin Radziej, who became the youngest Microsoft certified engineer in the world, and who currently serves as the student president of Perritech. "But we worked through it together."
Between 1997 and 2000, more than 420 9th- through 12th-graders received training, with about 10 percent of all students participating in the first year, 25 percent in the second, and nearly 33 percent in 2000. Students devoted one period a day to the company as well as time before and after school working on the school's computers and computer network. School officials estimated that the students' services paid back the $100,000 cost of the program threefold in the 1998-99 school year alone.
The beneficiaries of the new flow of high-tech expertise are not just schools; off-campus businesses that need computer help are snapping up the high-tech student consultants, thereby generating additional income for Perritech. In 2000, seven organizations had already established contact with Perritech to investigate replication of the program, showing the promise of a wide network of computer competent schools, powered by the belief in the abilities of youth.