NAMPA — Jack Conger is on his way to a classroom on a help call. The phone is ringing. A stack of fixed tablets are ready to be delivered back to their owners. And, a student waits outside the CatSquad office at Columbia High School for help with their Dell tablet.

March 17 is a busy day for the CatSquad students, who are responsible for providing tech support to the 1,300 students and 100 teachers and administrators at the school.

Twenty students and their teacher are pioneering a new internship class based out of Columbia High School centered around technology support.

The class began this school year when the Nampa school district gave each one of Columbia High School’s 1,300 students a Dell tablet for a more personalized learning experience. Since tablets sometimes break, can’t connect to the internet, or won’t turn on, someone has to know how, and be available, to fix those problems.

Thus, the CatSquad was born.

WHAT THE CATSQUAD DOES

The CatSquad — named after the school’s mascot, the Wildcat — is housed in an office on the second floor of the high school and staffed for every class period of the school day.

Because Nampa’s three high schools share students, anywhere from two to seven junior and senior students from Nampa, Columbia and Skyview high schools are available for their peers to walk in with their tablets and say, “I have a problem.”

Anthony Thacker often gets complaints of Wi-Fi connectivity, or lack thereof, and four other CatSquad members overlapped words of agreement.

Sometimes the attachable keyboards won’t attach.

“Broken screens are a problem way more often than they should be,” said Pablo Lopez.

Jared Day, a junior, even received a tablet that had been run over.

“You can’t fix that,” he said with a chuckle.

If a student needs their device fixed, they come up to the second floor with a hall pass and their device to talk to one of the CatSquad members. Outside the CatSquad office are two tables where students plug in their malfunctioning device for a diagnosis.

A CatSquad member comes out of the office to talk to the student, who describes the problem.

When the issue is relatively simple, such as connecting to Wi-Fi, one of the CatSquad students will make the fix. Sometimes, the fix is quick enough that the student just waits for their device to get working, then heads back to class.

If the problem is out of their knowledge realm and ability, the students will send the tablet to the district’s IT department or Dell for repairs. The CatSquad member will also provide the student with a loaner device until their device is fixed.

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Once the device is fixed, a CatSquad member will get the device back to the student and return the loaned device to inventory. The CatSquad is responsible for the loaner inventory, but the district also has access to that information to avoid theft problems.

One of the struggles at the beginning of the academic year was finding a balance of authority between the students and district administrators, instructor John Lucas said. The students needed to have enough access to the school’s Internet network and tablet software to do their job, but not too much to violate privacy or be a risk to security.

“You have to be trusted and you do your work,” Thacker said.

In order to be in the class, prospective CatSquad members have to have taken several of Lucas’ basic classes, such as desktop repair. The students also have to have good grades and prove reliability in not just his class but other classes, as well. Lucas will ask other teachers about a student’s performance in class.

Forty students applied to take the class in the 2018-19 academic year. Lucas accepted 17.

“They’re pretty proud of being accepted,” Lucas said.

GETTING JOB-READY

The CatSquad internship class is part of the Nampa school district’s Career Technical Education Program, which aims to equip students with career-ready practices and skills.

Thacker plans to go to Boise State University for a four-year degree in computer science.

Lopez hopes to attend Northwest Nazarene University for electrical or mechanical engineering.

Day also wants to study computer science at Boise State University. He already has a part-time job with the city of Meridian’s IT department. Day wants to eventually have a job doing network maintenance for a city as a network administrator.

Conger is already halfway through completing requirements for his PC Pro Certificate, which testifies to someone’s technical knowledge of such areas as windows system management, troubleshooting and mobile devices.

“I’ve learned about customer service,” Conger said about the internship class. “That’s the main priority.”

CatSquad members also gain technical knowledge of the devices, such as how the hardware of the devices and the district-specific software the devices use rather than the generic windows software.

“If they’re on the job, it’s the same thing,” Lucas said.

Sometimes the students are called to a classroom to fix a projector, or to diagnose a student’s tablet while they are in class because the student can’t leave the class.

“It’s not super structured,” Day said. “You don’t have someone standing over your shoulder. That makes (the class) more real.”

Alx George is the IPT education reporter. Contact her at 465-8178 or ageorge@idahopress.com. Follow @missalxgeorge.

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