Buena students building computers, career skills
The Press of Atlantic City
November 26, 2001
Education Writer, (609) 272-7241

A 15,000 grant provided the training and equipment for 15 students to build their own computers at Buena Regional High School in Atlantic County.

Buena Vista Township - The first time students in the “Build Your Own PC” class tried to build a computer, it was hard.

“We didn’t know anything,” junior Julius Forrest said.

“We were here almost an hour past the end of class,” teacher Joe Dilks said.

The second time the students built a computer, they were done in half the time.

“The second one was easier,” Forrest said. “And the third one was a whole lot easier.”

And that’s good Dilks said, because when the students take their computers home, they’ll be on their own troubleshoot problems.

The 15 computers, now almost complete, are part of a special evening class at Buena Regional High School designed to teach students a skill that could lead to a career in the future, but will provide them with a computer immediately.

The school, working with the Atlantic County Educational Technology Training Center at The Richard Stockton College or New Jersey, received a 15,000 ACE technology grant from the Department of Education to offer the “Build Your Own PC” program to 15 students, some of whom might not be able to afford a computer at home.

Michael McCausland, coordinator of the ACE technology center at Buena Regional, said he did have to do some recruiting to get students interested.

"Unfortunately, we began advertising for it around Sept. 11," he said.

But now that word has gotten out, people are coming out of the woodwork wanting to sign up.

Sophomore Britani Bianco said she thinks students would be interested in learning to build a computer even if they do not get to keep it.

"I like that we would learn something we wouldn’t normally get to learn," she said.  Getting a free computer was a bonus.

Salvatore Acilio, a freshman, didn’t even realize he would get to keep the computer when he signed up.

It just sounded interesting,” he said, “ and I thought it might be a career in the future.”

His mom, Terri, has been coming to class with him, but admits she’s more intimidated that he is.

“It was hard to believe we were going to get to keep the computer, but it’s a great class,” she said.

“He (Salvatore) loves to take things apart and put them back together.”

The course is being taught by Joe and Jeff Dilks.  Joe Dilks teaches industrial technology at Egg Harbor Township High School, which offers a similar class for students.

EHT has a three-course program with the goal of qualifying students to take the A+ certification exam.  They build and rebuild old school district computers.  About 75 students currently are in the program.

"If they can get that A+ certification, they can get a job making 35,000 to start," Joe Dilks.  "If they keep going, they can make a lot more.”

The Buena students have to do eight hours of interning in the ACE computer lab, plus attend the series of three-hour classes to build the computers, before they can take their computer home.  They have the hardware complete, and are finishing up software. 

There have been glitches, however.

"One Computer had a major problem that took three nights of headaches to solve," Joe Dilks said.  "It turned out to be a problem with a cable.  But it’s good to have problems, because that’s how the students learn to troubleshoot.’

Joe Dilks said most of the students had some previous computer knowledge, but mostly about how to use a computer, not build one.  The class computers have 900-megahertz processors, 15-inch monitors, speakers, soundcards and video-cards and Window 98 software.

"Kids pick this up really fast," Joe Dilks said.  "I teach almost the same course in the master’s degree program at Stockton, and adults are always more intimidated about touching all the parts."