SARASOTA, Fla. — They are the adolescent Geek Squad.
Young, savvy, computer experts.
The group of 15 teenagers often does the grunt work to keep the equipment online and running at Pine View School, which has not only the most technology but also the oldest devices in Sarasota County schools, says the group’s technology and testing coordinator, Lyna Jimenez-Ruiz.
On campus, the teenagers get noticed, their statuses suddenly elevated, when a teacher has a technology meltdown or a friend has an iPhone problem.
“You are able to give something. You get more respect,” said Katriana Dubytz, 17, who spent all summer working on the school’s computers.
In the tech support class, the Pine View students install software, prep computers for FCAT testing or update smart boards. They’re the ones who answer teachers’ questions, a reverse role for the students.
The teenagers cannot laugh when that mysterious computer malfunction ends up being something as simple as an unplugged cord, which happens more than you might think.
The students get something out of it, too. For them, it is practicing what they love. As children, many stayed up all night playing computer games or figuring out how to build their own equipment from scratch. Their future majors in college will likely be computer science or engineering.
“I actually get to learn about something I’m interested in. I like technology. I like fixing technology,” said senior Thomas Pring, 18, of Sarasota.
They respond to 300 requests a week for help, free labor at a time when the district anticipates tight financial times ahead.
Pine View’s list of ever-breaking, needs-a-tune-up equipment features 1,502 laptops and desktops, 125 digital cameras, 124 smart boards and 26 scanners.
The students’ rewards are popcorn or sweets, especially from the elementary teachers’ stash. But not all are so appreciative. On a recent day, a class of 18 second-graders and their teacher ignored Henry Gordon, 16, as he fixed some stubborn computers. Henry, dressed in dark jeans, a striped shirt and Adidas sneakers, waited as the four laptops reloaded. The desk of computers seemed out of place in the classroom, full of cutesy things, like smiling snowmen cutouts on the wall.
When the computers were fixed — their frozen screens working properly again — Henry left, quietly, while the teacher did not even look up. Not everybody says thank you to the help.
“Sometimes the teachers aren’t always on your side,” said Henry, a junior from Siesta Key.
But for the students, it’s on-the-job training on how to be polite and how to deal with a teacher whose blood pressure is rising when a computer breaks down in the middle of class. At least the tech students have their own teacher who will listen. “If you need to vent, you come here with me,” Ruiz said. “It won’t go out of the four walls.”