ORONO, Maine — The student approached a counter in the former library area of Orono High School. She held up a laptop computer for the two people standing in front of her on the other side of the counter.
The girl explained her appearance with the computer, which had a malfunctioning keyboard. She had waited several days before reporting the laptop trouble, but knew she now had to face up to the problem.
“It’s so depressing,” she said as a nervous smile crossed her face while the people in front of her, Orono High teacher Shana Goodall and student Chris Perkins, looked a bit more stern.
“[Someone] spilled apple cider on my laptop, and that’s why all the keys are like that,” the girl continued. “I didn’t want to get in trouble. It was an accident.”
Goodall stepped forward and reached for the computer.
“That’s fine, but one of the key things is keeping food and drinks away from [the computer],” Goodall said. “That’s a rule, whether it’s your personal machine or a school machine.”
Then Perkins piped up.
“Don’t be scared to tell us anything,” said the junior from Glenburn. “We need to know ASAP when that happens.”
It was uncertain whether major repairs to the girl’s computer could be avoided, but one thing was clear: Perkins and the rest of Orono High’s new Red Riot Geek Squad club, named after the school mascot, will try their best to fix the keyboard.
As of this fall, 10 Orono High students were involved in the club, which grew out of the decision of School Union 87 — now known as RSU 26 — to join the Maine Learning Technology Initiative’s 1-to-1 laptop program for schools. While the state’s middle schools have been participating in the program for several years, Orono is the second high school in Penobscot County to join the program for students. Penobscot Valley High School in Howland was the first, according to the MLTI Web site.
Many schools with 1-to-1 student laptop programs institute similar student groups, said state Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin.
“It’s a good way to get the kids involved,” he said.
After the Orono school committee voted to bring the laptop program into the high school, MLTI lead teacher and deployment coordinator Goodall realized she would need help getting the computers to students.
“It’s an impossible task for one full-time person with roughly 400 machines for faculty, students and staff, to do alone,” said Goodall, who is also a social studies teacher. “Our students are really whizzes at these things. They’ve been using computers their whole lives, and they’ve all come from middle schools with MLTI pro-grams. They’re just chomping at the bit.”
Three weeks after the computers were delivered to Orono High, Goodall said, the Geek Squad students had the machines all up and running, and ahead of schedule. The club members, who receive extra credit for their participation, also have served as repair technicians and coordinators as students check machines in and out of the school.
The student group also has started some new projects, such as learning how to use the school’s new copy machine so they can teach teachers and staff how to use it themselves. Goodall also has some students doing desktop publishing such as making fliers for school-related events, and the club is learning how to start a Web page.
The club members are well aware they’re gaining real-life skills they may be able to use in the future. They’re also learning how to deal with what can, at times, be awkward social situations. How does a teenager on the Geek Squad feel teaching an adult how to use a machine? How hard is it for a freshman to tell a senior what the senior is doing wrong with his laptop?
Perkins doesn’t think it’s an issue from the student end — after all, he didn’t hesitate to speak his mind to the girl with the apple cider in her keyboard.
“Students aren’t afraid to come to us with questions,” he said. “I think they feel more comfortable coming to a student with a question rather than going to a teacher.”
Goodall has heard positive reactions from her colleagues who must face taking direction from students.
“These kids are experts at it,” she said. “Speaking with one teacher today, he’s just ecstatic about the laptops, and he fully admitted he wasn’t a big techie but he knows the kids know what to do.”