A knack for computers and technology on the part of Brainerd High School students has turned into a valuable service for their school district.

A group of about 15 BHS students known as Tech Warriors volunteer some of their free time each week to help repair broken Chromebooks and other electronic devices throughout the district. Started a few years ago with eighth-graders at Forestview Middle School, the program expanded to BHS and now helps students learn valuable skills some say they may use later on in life, while also saving the district time and money on what could otherwise be costly, time-consuming repairs.

“This is a need,” BHS Systems Administrator Shawn Tollefson said Wednesday, March 4.

With this school year’s new 1:1 technology initiative, in which all high school students have their own Chromebooks to use and take home, Tollefson said the need for technology repairs has dramatically increased within the last year.

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The district buys computer parts wholesale, which Tollefson said isn’t a huge cost. Combine that with students volunteering their time, and Chromebook repairs are a piece of cake. And if the parts are already in, repairs can take as little as half an hour, versus sending them out to a third-party source and having to wait up to a week or more to get them back.

Senior Joey Valtakis and junior Danny Johnson, tech aids who spend one of their hours with Tollefson each day as well as helping out with the Tech Warriors program, estimate they fix anywhere between 25-50 Chromebooks a week, whether it’s repairs to screens, keyboards, touchpads, charging ports, speakers or even software maintenance or connectivity issues.

“Computers have always been my thing,” Johnson said. “... I thought it was pretty cool to figure out how to take care of the Chromebooks for the school. Plus, it helps the kids in the school, so I was all for it.”

Junior Ethyn Anderson said he was helping his case manager with some computer problems when she suggested he might be a good fit for Tech Warriors.

“It was just a lot of fun when I first entered,” Anderson said. “I like technology, I like working with technology. And I learned quite a few things.”

Senior Dayn Meyer said knowledge is the most valuable tool he has gained from Tech Warriors, especially as he has spent time working with Tollefson in the summer as well. He also has been able to use some of that knowledge in the classroom, like earlier this year when there was an issue with the digital display in his economics class and he was able to troubleshoot the problem.

Freshmen Micah Halbersma and Zane Jacobi started with Tech Warriors as eighth-graders at Forestview and had enough fun to continue on in high school. They also feel it’s a nice, constructive way to spend their open WIN (What I Need) hour twice a week.

For Tollefson, the goal of Tech Warriors is twofold.

“I want them to learn and help repair because it’s needed and it’s valued,” he said, “but I also want to have fun with these guys because school can be hard work.”

The students assured Tollefson Wednesday they’re having fun with the program, and some said they may go on to use these skills in college or a career after high school.

“I’m grateful for the students and the service they’ve provided the high school and thankful to the community as well for being supportive of ISD 181 and allowing these students to have this opportunity with these devices,” Tollefson said.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.