Nettleton High students build computers for school district

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

NETTLETON – Until two years ago, Nettleton High School senior Josh Black was like most students his age: He had never built a computer from scratch.
But after taking the school’s computer engineering class, the 18-year-old will tell you the task is easy. So much so, he said, that he has decided to study computer engineering in college.
“I didn’t know much about it,” said Black, who is now taking the second year of the course after also taking it as a sophomore. “I wanted to be a graphic designer. Once I learned the insides of a computer and how easy it was, it dawned on me it was a lot better field to go into.”
For their final project in the class, Black and eight fellow NHS students are building PCs. They are starting with the frame of a CPU and adding all of the parts. The machines they build will be used by students at Nettleton Junior High next year.
“It is a good feeling that something that I helped to build will be going back to a school that I’ve been going to for the last 12 years,” said senior Justin Smith.
The year-long class teaches students about technology, hardware and computer repair, said Anthony Alred, the Nettleton School District’s technology coordinator. He teaches the class along with Joe Fava, the district’s network support technician.
Each week, the students complete a one-page research paper on emerging technologies and discuss it in class. They also watch technology-related films and analyze how technology affects society. Alred teaches them to identify different computer hardware and to do basic computer troubleshooting.
They use that knowledge to repair computers in the district throughout the year. The students can take the class for two years, and the second-year students are given more responsibility as technology assistants.
Their biggest project of the year involves building the computers, a task that takes them about a week to complete. In doing so, they are also able to save the district money while helping it add technology during a time of budget reductions.
For about $600 worth of parts, they will build a machine with three gigabytes of RAM, a 500-gigabyte hard drive, an AMD quad-core processor and Windows 7 Professional operating system.
To buy a computer with similar specs would cost about $1,100, Alred said.
“You don’t get the warranty, but then again, we are our own warranty,” Alred said. “We can build a higher-spec computer for less money.”
In the five years that Alred has taught the class, his students have built about 60 computers, most of which remain in use in the district.
The students sign their name and write the date on the computers they complete. The opportunity to leave a legacy was appealing for Arthur Costa, 18, an exchange student from Goiania, Brazil.
“A lot of exchange students come and leave and no one remembers them,” he said. “Just because these computers will be used, I will know that I did something useful. Who knows? Maybe I can come back in the future and see it being used.”
Alred said that through the years, several students in the class have gone on to build their own computers that they used in college. Others, such as Black, have become interested in studying computer engineering.
“The class demystifies technology for them,” Alred said. “It’s not that younger people have a fear of technology, but this just gives them confidence, knowing they can build a computer.
“Also, some of these students have never had a real job. Sending them out to various repair duties, it is a good lesson in responsibility for them.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@journalinc.com.