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In US classrooms, 'tech sherpas' assist teachers with computers

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It "creates a culture of respect" says Sylvia Martinez, president of Generation YES in Olympia, Wash., which is hired by about 200 schools each year to set up curricula in which students assist with technology. "A lot of kids have a very empowering experience when they teach someone something.... And teachers see the kids as not these scary tech-savvy aliens," Ms. Martinez says.

Jayson Chandler, an exuberant Nokomis senior sporting bold glasses and a metal-studded wristband, says he wants teachers to see that technology isn't as hard as they might think.

"Some teachers don't want to do it – they want to stick to the old-school way," Jayson says. "In the future it's going to be kind of forced upon them.... Right now, we're gently pushing them towards it."

The sherpa instructor

What makes the help provided by students like Jayson reliable is partly the structure and skills layered into the tech-sherpa venture by Kern Kelley, a fast-talking former fifth-grade teacher who is now the district's technology integrator.

"Just because a student can create a MySpace page doesn't mean they know all the ins and outs of technology," Mr. Kelley says.

These students do tend to spend hours of free time teaching themselves the latest programs, but many of them also take the intro and advanced broadcasting communication classes that Mr. Kelley coteaches in a temporary trailer classroom just outside the high school's main building.

The sherpas are often on hand to help teachers spontaneously in class – either to troubleshoot or to operate digital equipment. They work with academic departments to build custom websites. When they have free time, they respond to requests teachers have sent in to Kelley that he knows can be handled by a student rather than a member of the small IT staff. He recently started asking tech sherpas to log the work they do with teachers so they can earn credit.

This fall the group also launched a weekly live Web-stream show called "The Tech Curve," in which students field questions about various Internet teaching tools and the new Mac laptops that the state is issuing to high school teachers (see

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