New tech repair course at District 833 schools offers hands-on learning and a chance to help fellow students.
South Washington County Schools (SoWashCo), like many districts, hurried to connect students in the early remote-learning days of COVID-19: with a device for every single kid. “We have approximately 19,000 students, and every single student has their own district-issued device,” says Amber Sorenson, the district’s technology integration coordinator. Those devices (mostly Chromebook tablets/laptops) mean students can access resources easily and do some work from flexible environments—but they also mean lots of repairs.
“We noticed that our tech department just couldn’t keep up with the number of repairs we were seeing,” Sorenson says. “We needed a sustainable solution.” Enter the SoWashCo device repair course, where high schoolers learn about computers and tablets and how to repair them. Then, they get hands-on experience working with fellow students’ devices and lightening the load for the district’s professional tech folks. “They get career-relevant skills, like problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration and real-world experience helping their community repair devices,” Sorenson says.
Ajulo Awow, who graduated from South Washington Alternative High School last May, says the repair course gave her a new focus for her career path. “I had taken a robotics class and was very interested in tech,” Awow says. She had planned to dive into electrical engineering at college but found she really loved the hands-on work of tech repair. “Becoming an electronics technician has become interesting to me,” she says. “So I’m trying to hone in on that.” Awow is now studying electric technology at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis.
The course launched with a pilot at the Alternative High School in the spring of 2023 and rolled out to East Ridge, Park and Woodbury high schools later that term. Coordinators, including Sorenson, designed the first iteration as an independent study with a few dozen students participating. During the first part of the pandemic, companies that manufacture Chromebooks—like Acer, Lenovo and Dell—had published its own repair guides aimed at student-led repair programs. “I knew we had lots of kids who would be interested in that,” Sorenson says. “We partnered with a company in St. Paul called Vivacity Tech, [which] wrote the curriculum for the course.” Students who completed the course received a certification from Vivacity Tech for Chromebook repair.
Awow says she liked the variety of repairs, from fixing broken keys to replacing motherboards and wiring. “We might see broken screens to replace or power issues with devices not charging,” she says. Devices in need of repair were ticketed at their own schools and then routed to one of the four high school repair shops depending on location.
The reach of the course has turned out to be long. Some students, including Awow, got paying jobs with the school district or local tech companies when they completed the course. “It has really provided a glimpse at opportunities for our students, because we didn’t have something like this before,” Sorenson says. “It’s a springboard to be able to go into [a field] like this and understand that it’s a viable career option.”
And as the course grows, coordinators plan to keep making changes based on student feedback. They hope to move it from an independent study to a course-catalog option with a dedicated instructor and to grow the number of high schoolers who can participate at each of the four high schools. Sorenson notes that Minnesota has the lowest number of computer technology class offerings for high schoolers in the United States. “This started out as a solution for broken devices, but it’s really turned into so much more than that,” she says. “It’s providing opportunity and experience for our students.”
Visit sowashco.org to learn more about the district’s high schools and technology programs.