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Riverfront apprenticeship program teaches tools of technology

Matthew Reisinger, 17, of Front Royal, seated, and Elizabeth Coffey, information technology/computer instructor at Riverfront Christian School, look over a computer file they were printing on the school's 3D printer on Monday. Coffey is starting an apprenticeship program at the school and Matthew will be participating. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Josette Keelor

FRONT ROYAL -- Matthew Reisinger is so into information technology that his teachers at Riverfront Christian School in Front Royal come to him for computer help.

"It's always been something that I've been interested in," he said, recently remembering the service questions that follow him around the halls.

A 17-year-old rising senior, he expects to increase his customer base this fall when he begins selling flash drives and school supplies out of a technology cart made from a tool chest.

He won't be the only one, either. In coming years, high school interns with the information technology department's apprenticeship program will have significant say in the type of technology the school pursues.

Led by IT teacher Elizabeth "Liz" Coffey, the apprenticeship program is the next step for students who have completed her IT 101 and 102 classes.

Reisinger and recent graduate Wade Bailey are the only students to complete IT 102, which started last fall. Coffey started IT 101 after the school hired her in 2012.

When she started teaching, the school's IT department consisted of a lab with basic computer classes. One of the first things Coffey did was replace the CRT desktop monitors with flat screens. Then she tackled coursework.

IT 101 students repair computers and printers and learn how to run a small business.

IT 102 includes virus removal, hardware stress tests, application development and more advanced software. The 3D printer -- what Reisinger called "a very high-tech glue gun" -- makes tiny plastic representations of three dimensional computer images. He and Bailey assembled the printer themselves from a $400 kit. It took them about a month, and Coffey said it's part of what sets the school's program apart.

Other area schools have 3D printers, she said, but "I don't know of any class where they actually went in and put the printer together."

"I don't know of any other school system that does hardware repair, hardware diagnostics ... or virus removal," she added.

Fundraising efforts and donations to the program have funded the addition of the 3D printer and its plastic filament as well as a large flatscreen TV in the IT department's modular classroom, Martin said.

Coffey also accepts electronic devices in any state of disrepair to use in class -- except for CRT desktop monitors, which she said actually costs the department to recycle. Right now they're saving for a larger, sturdier 3D printer.

Plans are also in the works for night and summer community computer classes taught by interns, said Principal Cindy Martin.

She said teaching the community will give interns field experience, "so when they go out there, they're more marketable."

It will reinforce to students, "You might be young, but you're not too young to go out and do something with our local community," Martin said.

Coffey's classes help prepare students for whatever line of work they'll pursue.

"You should have job skills where you're actually working with peers and coworkers and management skills -- leadership skills where you actually have employees under you," she said.

She also prepares students to troubleshoot a growing technology market she said makes it nearly impossible for the average consumer to fix electronic devices when they break.

Last October, while attending a Smithsonian announcement in Washington about plans to scan seven million museum artifacts from its collection through a 3D printer, she asked experts about their plans for 3D printer out-of-warranty service -- "and they didn't have a plan at all."

"I don't know anyone around that actually repairs 3D printers," Coffey said. So far, she said, only the manufacturer will service it.

"We want to get into tablet repair," Coffey said. "We want to get into iPhone, smartphone repair."

"I want to see what we can get into, what we can tear apart."

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com

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