August 6, 2008

Kids Learn About Technology at Geek Squad Summer Academy in Orlando

By Etan Horowitz, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.

Aug. 6--When he was younger, 11-year-old Connor Neiberlein accidentally infected his family's computer with viruses by visiting unsafe Web sites.

At the time he didn't know any better, but thanks to a three-day camp being put on in Orlando this week by the iconic geeks of Best Buy's Geek Squad, Connor won't do that again.

"I might be able to fix it now," Connor, a sixth-grader at Howard Middle School, said Tuesday as he and another student built a computer. "We learned to stay away from pop-up [ads] and how to diagnose a virus on the computer."

Empowering students such as Connor is exactly the goal of the Geek Squad Summer Academy, which wraps up today at Howard Middle School in Orlando. The academy began as an all-girls camp in Chicago last year and has expanded to Orlando and nine other cities this summer. Boys are now welcome, too.

"There are lots of different reasons kids may have a barrier to [learning] about technology," said Kat Sederquist, the academy's project coordinator. "With girls, it's a gender barrier because technology is traditionally considered something that boys are into. We expanded [the academy] to coed this year [by] bringing it to urban markets with children that have socioeconomic barriers to technology."

To make the free academy a reality, Geek Squad partnered with the Destiny Foundation, a Central Florida charity.

On Tuesday, the 50 middle- and high-school students taking part in the academy rotated between sessions on computer building, computer networking, green technology and Web site building. The classes are primarily taught by Geek Squad agents from local Best Buy stores who traded in their usual uniform of white short sleeve dress shirts and black ties for T-shirts, shorts and the occasional flash storage drive attached to a set of dog tags.

"Our idea is to generate interest and comfort and have them feel as passionate at home in the middle of computer wires as we do," said Juan Rojas, a Geek Squad district service manager in Orlando.

Rojas also hopes to get kids interested in technology careers. "Who knows, from this group of kids, you might have someone that will be the next Bill Gates."

In between classes, the kids got to play some of the hottest videos games for the Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360, including Rock Band, Dance Dance Revolution and Wii Sports. Since Rock Band is full of songs that came out before the campers were born, Geek Squad agents had to help out with the singing of tunes such as the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" or Black Sabbath's "Paranoid."

Although the camp is coed, the instructors separate the sexes so they can focus on what they are learning. Sixth- graders Rachel Hernandez and Alexyz Hernandez said they're just as enthusiastic about technology as the boys.

"I think girls can do anything a guy can do better," Rachel said.

"And in style," Alexyz added.

Etan Horowitz can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-5447.


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