Many of the 240 students that attended the Geek Squad Academy in the Westside on Wednesday have little to no access to technology at home. Some have never used a phone or computer, but for the next two days these 10- to 18-year-olds will be working with video cameras, laptops, software, and even a 3D printer.
“(We’re here to) bridge the digital divide between teens and technology, specifically in underprivileged or underserved areas with limited access,” said Geek Squad Academy Field Lieutenant Andrea Riehl. By bridging that divide, Geek Squad Academy is giving kids who wouldn’t normally have access to technology the skills they need to be competitive in today’s job market.
Geek Squad Academy, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in San Antonio this year, kicked off Wednesday morning at The Neighborhood Place near Culebra Road. The camp was made possible through the partnership between The Family Service Teen Tech Center, which is sponsored by Best Buy and its tech support subsidiary Geek Squad.
The Teen Tech Center, also located within The Neighborhood Place, is a spot where local teens can drop by after school or on summer afternoons to access technology they may not have at home. Some kids use the space to learn Photoshop, others to build robots.
The academy’s enrollment is up almost 50% from last year – they even had to turn some kids away. About one-third of those enrolled are girls and the rest are boys. Sixty-three kids traveled from Austin on buses provided by the Austin Housing Authority, and many of the local attendees are existing members of the teen tech center.
At the beginning of camp “junior agents” were given an orange bag with a flash drive and split into groups based on their age. From 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the kids will move from room to room for 50-minute classes taught by Geek Squad experts on topics such as 3D printing, digital music, video production, digital citizenship, and circuit breadboards.
Each participant will “graduate” from the program on Thursday. If history is any indicator, many of them will be back the following year.
This will be Jeremiah Gonzalez’s third year. He uses the skills learned at past Geek Squad Academy camps in his graphic design business, he said. The 15-year-old crafts designs for local birthday parties as well as wedding invitations.
“Geek Squad Academy is a really unique space,” Gonzalez said. “It’s inspiring to see these really young kids here. It’s like, ‘Wow. I wish I had my life together at that age.’ The content that you learn here is content I’m really grateful to have the experience to learn.”
The camp hopes to ignite a passion for technology within each of the kids. At the Academy, they use computer programs that are either free or low-cost so that when the camp is over, the kids can use what they learned and continue exploring.
Kimberly Sama, youth education and career services manager at Family Service Association of San Antonio, said for many of the kids, that further exploration will take place at the Teen Tech Center.
“At the Tech Center, they continue those skills throughout the year,” Sama said. “The Academy (provides) a great taste of so many different things and here they have a place to really explore and try those things out.”
Riehl said the Academy aims toward training the kids to be content creators as opposed to just consumers of technology. Everything at the camp is hands-on and interactive rather than having the group simply stare at computer screens all day.
In one of the classes, the kids write their own movie script and film it. They can save the film on complimentary flash drives to take home and show their parents.
In another class, kids design small houses and then print them on a 3D printer. On Thursday, the kids will use Apple’s GarageBand to mix their own beats and collaborate with one another during a jam session.
Riehl said she looks forward to watching the kids connect to technology because that’s when she knows the camp hit the mark.
“In that moment when the kids really engage with the technology and you can see on their faces that they are experiencing something new and enjoying it, you start to see the possibilities that accessing technology can give them,” she said. “That’s when I know we had a successful (camp).”
Top image: A Geek Squad Academy student learns how closed and open circuits work. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.