Schools’ GenYes program uses students to solve technology needs

From left: Cate Defa, Emily Romero, Erik Lund, Joe O'Malley, Brock Elliff, Alex Kuck, Sam Thompson, Kate Isom and Annalina Powers. Thompson leads the eighth grade GenYes program at Treasure Mountain Junior High.
Carolyn Webber Alder/Park Record

If a teacher runs into a problem with a computer program while teaching, they can call the school’s technology coach and, in minutes, the coach and a student will be there to help fix the issue.

Troubleshooting technology troubles for teachers is one of the many tasks student tech leaders perform at Ecker Hill Middle School and Treasure Mountain Junior High. They also teach new students and parents how to use the school’s online learning software, present at statewide teacher conferences and film and edit videos for the morning announcements. It is all part of the GenYes program.

Summer Marshall, a technology instructional coach at Ecker Hill, brought the program to the school in 2013. She stumbled upon the idea while searching for a way to get tech-minded students involved in a class so they could develop leadership and technology skills simultaneously. At an international technology education conference, she learned about Generation Yes, a national nonprofit that helps teachers implement the GenYes program at schools.

Marshall received a grant from the Park City Education Foundation to try the program at Ecker Hill, and she said it was an immediate success. The program expanded so the seventh-grade cohort heading to Treasure Mountain could continue their work in GenYes.

The first task of the student tech leaders was to teach incoming students about the online programs the school uses to access grades and share documents within a class. But Marshall said each year, the program evolves to include different projects and serve the schools’ needs.

One year, they started the “Goo in the Loo” project, where students put Google tips in the teachers’ restrooms. This year, the students are helping to run Ecker Hill’s library’s new makerspace.

“It’s a way for them to provide leadership to the school,” Marshall said.

Sam Thompson, the technology coach and head of the GenYes program at Treasure Mountain, said offering students the opportunity to be leaders is one his favorite parts of the program. He emphasizes the importance of the student leaders empowering the teachers and students they are helping rather than belittling them for needing help.

Those skills, he said, will help all members.

“Interacting in a calm and cooperative manner is an important life skill, no matter what career field you go into,” Thompson said.

Alex Kuck, an eighth grade GenYes member, said he has enjoyed learning how best to help people work through problems. He said he joined because he wanted to improve his leadership skills through something he enjoyed — technology. And so far, he feels a difference.

Often, his teachers will need help with a projector or have a question about how to share a document with a student. That is when they will look to Kuck, who is happy to step up and help.

“It feels great, because normally teachers teach us, but when they need help, I can be sort of like a teacher to them,” he said.

Emery Nelson, a seventh grade GenYes member, said her favorite part of the program is helping, too. This school year, she has been working with new students to teach them the school’s online programs. She enjoys seeing their skills improve over time.

For Madison Coine, a seventh grade member, one of the highlights of GenYes is making friends with people she might not normally interact with. Marshall said she and Thompson purposefully select a diverse group of students for the program. Only eight seventh graders are selected for the program each year, and there are typically more than 75 applicants.

The application process is rigorous, including letters of recommendations and interviews.

Marshall loves to watch the students develop over the course of the year, improving their skills and becoming more unified, but she still finds their change in confidence to be the most impressive part of the program.

“Watching these kids, who are so nervous that they are in tears in the interview, and then have them stand up in front of 500 adults and give an inspirational speech is pretty incredible to watch,” she said.

The students recognize that confidence, too. Cate Defa, an eighth-grader, said she was nervous and stressed when she presented about Google Keep last year at the statewide teacher technology conference. When it was over, she felt relief and joy in knowing that she had helped the teachers.

This year, she is looking forward to doing the same.

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