Student-run help desk saves money, time

A student-run tecStudent Run Help Deskhnology help desk is engaging students, teaching job skills, providing better service and faster repairs, and saving time and money for the Beekmantown (N.Y.) Central School District.

“It’s a much, much higher return on investment” to purchase parts and train student interns to perform most repairs to the district’s Chromebooks compared to sending the devices to an outside vendor for repairs or hiring more staff, said Gary Lambert, director of 21st century learning.

The rural Title I district has one high school, one middle school, and two elementary schools in the Champlain Valley. About 55 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches before the district started to serve free lunch to all students in 2015 under the Community Eligibility Provision.

Student interns on what the district affectionately calls its BeekSquad are the first to handle help desk calls. The squad is a club in cooperation with the district’s Future Business Leaders of America Club.

Students troubleshoot, resolve routine complaints, and explain how to use Google Docs and Google Classroom, said David Yonteff, the district’s technology integration specialist. They’re handling the most common yet time-consuming tasks, which frees him to help teachers learn to use technology to improve instruction, he said.

Student interns saved the district from having to hire two or three adult technical specialists, he said.

In summer 2015, the district hired two technology integration specialists to repair computers and unbox and set up new devices, he said. This summer, Yonteff and Lambert instead interviewed, hired, and paid four students who had been trained on the BeekSquad for the same cost. “We are much further along for the start of [SY 2016-17],” Lambert said.

The four students also are learning what it means to be an employee, he said.

Job skills engage students

The program started in 2015 as BCSD began its digital initiative, which includes one-to-one Chromebooks, teaching digital citizenship, staff development, and student agency for technology, Lambert said. He and the superintendent both envisioned a student-run help desk, which they had seen at other high schools in the state.

Lambert said the student-run help desk was easier to start than he or Yonteff imagined. They put up a few fliers, emailed some middle and high school students, and asked interested students to fill out a short online application. Yonteff helped sixth-grade applicants develop a resume, and students dressed up for their “job” interviews — the first for most.

“We were blown away at the quality and thoughtfulness” of students who wanted to give up one class period a day for free, Yonteff said. Not all were already technology-oriented, but the students wanted to help the school community become more tech-literate, Lambert said. They also are helping their families, grandparents, and neighbors become more tech-literate.

In addition to learning tech skills and about job interviews, interns also learn and practice customer service skills, how to understand body language, and how to handle differences over the phone, Lambert said. When the answer to a question is, “No, we can’t do that for you,” Yonteff has coached student interns to redirect callers so they will not feel like contacting the help desk was fruitless.

Yonteff said he recruits sixth-graders so he can work with them for the next six years of their academic careers. Last spring, he explained the BeekSquad to fifth-graders. He and Lambert ran out of time to interview all 85 applicants before the end of the school year and plan to interview more after school starts in September. Yonteff said his goal is to maintain about 30-35 student interns.

“I think we were both surprised at what a positive chord we struck with students,” Lambert said.

Through the BeekSquad, Yonteff mentored some students who otherwise might have become bored with school or even dropped out, Lambert said. “If we can get students excited about being in school, chances are they’ll want to stay in school,” he said.

Lambert and Yonteff will present “Student Help Desk 101: How to Develop NextGen IT Leaders From Your District” at LRP’s National Future of Education Technology Conference, to be held Jan. 24-27, 2017, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

Dayna Straehley covers EL students, education technology, school improvement, and other Title I issues for LRP Publications.

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