What's a single guy, age 27, doing on a Saturday morning at Patrick Henry Elementary in Virginia? He's not a teacher, a coach, or a school employee. Shane Ahn, a strategic planning manager at Bell Atlantic, is a member of Tech Corps, an organization of professionals who offer their skills and expertise to help schools integrate technology in the teaching process
What's astonishing is the number of volunteers who aren't parents and thus have no personal connection to their community schools. "About 70% of the households in this country have no school-age children," says Tech Corps executive director Karen Smith. "That's a large group of potential volunteers with no direct ties to schools."
How did Shane get connected? "I know it sounds geeky," he responds, "but I learned about Tech Corps through an Internet news group and e-mailed Karen Smith for more information." Two and a half years later, he still volunteers his time, currently focusing his energies on creating a more businesslike structure for this grassroots organization and raising its overall visibility.
Schools Need All the Help They Can Get
Advances in technology are accelerating, and the doors to America's corporate and industrial workplace are wide open to young people with technological knowledge and skills. Companies are eager to hire systems professionals, programmers, analysts, and engineers, but there simply aren't enough candidates who qualify. Why is public education producing so few tech-savvy graduates?
Understanding the potential of new technology and integrating it into classroom learning isn't something that comes easily to schools. There is a lack of teacher training, financial constraints, and technology advisors are scarce. "Look at the private sector," says one educator. "If you were a manager, you'd be supported with programs and in-service support as you moved upwards in the ranks and had more demands placed on you. No one follows up and supports schools and teachers." These days, people like Shane Ahn are changing that scenario.
A National Scope
Founded in 1995 as a pilot project in Massachusetts, Tech Corps has chapters in 42 states and the District of Columbia. "Much like the Peace Corps challenged men and women to help build an infrastructure in developing countries," says founder Gary J. Beach, "we envision Tech Corps as challenging millions of Americans to build a technology infrastructure for our nations's schools."
What makes Tech Corps attractive to volunteers? For starters, the commitment isn't overwhelming. Projects are frequently short-term, and there's no pressure to volunteer additional time. Recruits don't feel as if they're signing their lives away -- in fact, many have said they wish their employers would allow them to volunteer during company time.