Ten interns with the Prince George’s County Office of Information Technology did more than file paperwork and answer phones this summer. They created ways to use technology to help potential dropouts stay in school and to teach senior citizens how to use e-mail and social networking.
“Each year, we get interns, but we found it difficult to find work for them because it’s such a short time frame,” said Sandra Longs, the office’s training manager. “So this year, Director Vennard Wright and I developed this idea to have the interns work on a project and produce a finished product.”
The six-week internship culminated on a recent Friday with a presentation by the interns, who were divided into two teams, before a panel of judges.
“I could not be more proud of what these students have accomplished,” Segun Eubanks, School Board chairman and one of the judges.
After a week and a half of technology training, with the help of mentors from Bowie State University, the teams chose a societal problem to combat, then spent 41 / 2 weeks using technology to develop solutions.
“We helped point them in the right direction, but they controlled everything,” Longs said.
One team named its project “Making a Better Path Plan” and sought ways to reduce the county’s high school dropout rate, which was 7.4 percent for the 2011-12 school year, the highest in the state, according to the Baltimore-based Kids Count Data Center.
Project leader Kayla Wright, 16, a student at Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro and daughter of Vennard Wright, said her team found many reasons for students dropping out. They included teenagers becoming pregnant or having to work to support their families. Technology — virtual labs, class Web sites and online classes — could be used to help keep them in school, the group concluded.
Kayla demonstrated a lesson using video conference software, which would allow students at home to interact virtually with a class. She said class videos also could be posted online for working or ill students, which could encourage them to not drop out.
The team is creating a Web site for teachers and students.
“We plan to further develop the Web site and keep working on the project,” Kayla said.
The other team sought to improve technological literacy among senior citizens.
After surveying several seniors between the ages of 65 and 85, the interns created a Web site,
technologywalker.com, and tutorial videos teaching seniors how to use social networking, e-mail and iPads, said the team’s technology specialist, Kay-Cee Grant, 15, a student at Gwynn Park High School in Brandywine.
The team also created a version of the Web site for mobile devices.
Team leader Sierra Proctor, 16, a student at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, said her team plans to continue providing technical support through the Web site after their internship has ended. They will provide tutorials in other languages and create new tutorials for additional devices.
“I really learned how to be a leader, because I usually am the one who sits in the back and lets others take charge,” Sierra said.
In the end, the panel of judges, led by Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III (D), declared both teams to be winners.
“Both of the projects were excellent,” Baker said. “There’s no way we could pick a winner.”
Each student received an iPad mini. Their projects will be featured on the county’s Web site, Longs said.
“We’re going to continue to support their projects, to make it a full-blown vocation, with apps, with whatever they need from us. We’re going to support it and make it larger than life,” Longs said.