Meet Tiger Tech: How an elite group of middle schoolers became the tech teachers
When a tablet has issues at Armstrong Middle School, they call in Tiger Tech, a student-run IT department who show up armed with empathy.
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This past September, Alyssa and Skylar stood at the front of the classroom, nervous as they faced their fellow students. It was device rollout day at Neil A. Armstrong Middle School and for the first time as newly assigned “Tiger Techs” they were in charge of teaching their classmates how to log on to — and care for — their tablets.
“There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with being a Tiger Tech,” says Alyssa. “A lot.”
A group of 24 students, the Tiger Tech team keeps the school’s technology running smoothly. To see them at work, it’s hard to imagine the team is only four years old, but until 2014, Armstrong had little technology and no access to Wi-Fi. The school was transformed thanks to a Verizon Innovative Learning initiative that provides free tablets, two-year data plans and teacher training to select underserved schools across the country. When a group of students volunteered to set up the new tablets that first year, “little did they know, they would become our in-house IT department,” says Dawn Martesi, Armstrong’s instructional coach who’s been instrumental in developing the Tiger Tech program.
Now, each year new students apply to join Tiger Tech in a process that includes garnering recommendations from teachers. Those who are chosen are trained in solving IT problems and in assisting teachers with incorporating the technology into the classroom as well as overseeing events like the device rollout at the start of the school year.
The Tiger Techs “are like celebrities” at the school, says teacher Malikah Upchurch, thanks to the knowledge and empathy they bring each time a student or teacher asks for help. Tiger Tech has proven such a success that having a student-staffed IT team is now standard for every Verizon Innovative Learning school.
In school districts like Armstrong’s – a blue-collar community near Levittown, PA, with industry on the decline – having access to the technologies that students in the neighboring wealthier districts take for granted does more than simply enhance the work kids like Alyssa do in their classrooms. It expands their potential and opens doors to their future. “When you walk into your learning environment, when you see that you have the same opportunities in your hands as [kids at] other schools, you feel like you’re in the game. You feel like you can compete,” says Martesi.
And closing the digital divide gives kids more than just a leg up in STEM. For Tiger Techs, the technology — and their responsibility for keeping it running — provides an enormously valuable emotional and social boost, as well.
“Beforehand I was a lot more shy and quiet. After Tiger Tech, I was able to open up a little more,” says Emily, a former Tiger Tech. “I even helped out my Social Studies teacher. It felt good that I could show a teacher how to do something.” Adds Tyler, another Tiger Tech alumni, “Being a Tiger Tech definitely gave me more confidence in myself.”
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