Bertie STEM goes nationwide

Published 1:27 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2009

WINDSOR – Bertie STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students learn through project-based learning.

Last week, the students took that learning a step further as they were trained to fix computers which will ultimately help their school, their neighbors and even those thousands of miles away.

Thanks to a partnership with Youth Technology Corps (YTC), students in the Bertie STEM School as well as four other STEMS across North Carolina were able to spend a week learning about the inner-workings of computers, how to repair them and how to install software.

“Obviously we are short of computers in homes and sometimes even in classrooms in Bertie County,” said STEM Principal G. Fisher Mitchell. “The students learning hands-on how to repair computers, that’s worth a fortune, plus the hardware that we could end up with through the program.”

YTC allows students to learn the inner workings of a computer and how to repair it. They learn to put a computer together from start to finish. Last week, the students at Bertie STEM received 20 computers as a donation from Office Max and Image Microsystems. They were able to restore 19 of them to working order.

The program began in Chicago, Illinois at Morton East High School with students there learning to repair computers that no longer worked and sending them to Mexico through a partnership.

Mark Siciliano, who serves as a board member for YTC and as a consultant for the North Carolina STEM School project, thought the two could work together well. Thanks to his involvement, YTC founder Dave Finkel came to this year’s STEM symposium and made a presentation about the technology corps.

The result was immediate interest in starting a program like YTC in several North Carolina STEM schools, including the one in Bertie County.

Robin Markus, the Program Director for STEM Education at the North Carolina New Schools’ Project, said she was not surprised at how quickly the students took to the idea.

“I expected the interest,” she said. “The student who spoke was very moving. They showed an earlier documentary that was produced and the student voices in it were powerful.”

The voices were powerful enough to catch the attention of the Bertie STEM School students, according to Mitchell.

“The kids have been excited from the very beginning,” he said. “They worried the heck out of me when we were trying to get it together. From that day on, that’s all I’ve heard.”

Mitchell said STEM School students Jack Nicholas, Calvin Bazemore and Carmen Villamore took the lead in the planning part of the effort. All that planning came together last week.

The students from Bertie STEM – 12 strong – and the four other schools met students and staff from YTC at Camp New Hope in Chapel Hill where they spent two days doing team-building exercises.

Nick Nicholson, a parent volunteer for Bertie STEM, said the team-building was an important part of the program.

“On the social side, I thought they taught the importance of teamwork and allowed them to get to know kids from other areas,” Nicholson said. “When they came back and the computers were here, they understood teamwork and knew what to do.”

Pablo Veramendi, a volunteer with the YTC, said he took a week’s vacation to come to Bertie County and was glad he did.

“I think it’s great,” Veramendi said. “Every year I do this I am surprised by how much I learn and I am impacted by the kids.”

One of the students from Chicago, Cesar Zamudio, is a rising senior who was making his first trip. He said he was glad he decided to come and that it was even worth the 15-hour bus trip.

“At Camp New Hope, when I saw these kids, they seemed easy to talk to,” he said. “I made the assumption that if I came here, everyone would be friendly and, so far, I’ve been correct.”

Zamudio said the students from Bertie County did well learning about the computers.

“I thought it would be a struggle. When I’ve helped teach before, sometimes it was tough, but they picked it up quickly,” he said.

The students from the Bertie STEM School said they were happy with the entire experience.

“I really like computers and technology,” said Martinez White, a rising junior at Bertie STEM. “I also want to be a part of helping out my community. Technology is why I wanted to go to STEM in the first place.”

“It’s been fun,” said classmate Holly Harrison. “I didn’t know taking a computer apart was that easy.”

The students said they enjoyed taking apart the entire computer and putting it back together as well as loading programs and other necessary equipment.

“It felt good,” Harrison said. “Now I feel like instead of paying someone a lot of money, I can do it myself.”