Building smarts by building CPUs

Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Juneau School District wants to help Native students build an interest in science, math and technology by teaching them to build computers this summer.

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A two-week "student summer institute" is being offered June 19-30 with the help of a Transitions: Looking Both Ways grant, and a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics grant. The district is partnering with Tlingit-Haida Central Council and Sealaska Heritage Institute.

"What they do with this camp is they build computers and, after taking certain levels of math and science, they get to keep the computers," said Alberta Jones, a grant specialist for the district. She said the students could own the computers in about two years.

The deadline for the program has been extended to Friday, June 2, so they can fill all the spots, Jones said.

The program is open to incoming high school freshmen and sophomore Native students with a minimum grade-point average of 2.0 on a 4.0 scale. The program is limited to 36 participants. The courses will be Mondays through Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Vocational Training and Resource Center on Hospital Drive.

Native computer program

For information on enrolling in the two-week student summer institute call (907) 523-1732

"It is entirely free of charge," Jones said. "But what we do require is 100 percent attendance, and coming there with a good attitude and work ethic and a commitment of wanting to succeed at Juneau-Douglas High School."

Jones said the program involves more than building computers, it also involves building relationships with members of the community. Native elders will speak with the students about cultural values and the importance of education in the mornings. A variety of professionals in the science, math and technology fields will speak with students in the afternoons about possible career paths.

John Wahl, a math, science and technology specialist for the district, said the program may expose the students to career opportunities they don't hear about during the regular school year.

"This institute will probably give them an opportunity to explore options in math, science and technology that will help them become more marketable," he said.

Students who enroll in the program also have the possibility of receiving credit toward their diplomas.

Jones said some of the goals of the program and the Transitions grant are helping narrow the achievement gap between Natives and non-Natives and increasing graduation rates.

Wahl said they plan to have the students use the computers they build to integrate math, science and technology in an environment different than they are used to during the regular school year.

"Hopefully that will inspire them to pursue the higher-level math and science course during the regular school year," he said.

Jones said they are also looking at possibly providing students with Apple iPods upon completion of the program to help inspire students to learn more about technology. She said there are many educational options of using lecture "podcasts" from the Internet to help further the students' educations.

Wahl said he hopes the program inspires potential careers.

"Being able to build a computer from scratch is not something every student gets to do," he said.

"It's going to be an incredible experience, something many of us wish we could have had going into high school," she said.

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