Arizona Education: Students Recycling Used Technology

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Some Arizona students are keeping waste out of landfills while learning new skills and helping others. Hundreds of high school students are refurbishing computers for schools and charities. Meet the people behind Arizona StRUT (Students Recycling Used Technology). Tom Mehlert, Executive Director of StRUT, will tell us more about the program.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of "Arizona education" looks at a program called STRUT, which stands for students recycling used technology. It's an effort to educate high school students on a variety of levels through the refurbishing of computers. We'll hear from the executive director of STRUT in a moment, but first, producer Christina Estes shows us how the program works at Tempe high school.

Christina Estes: It's not surprising that the principal's office is pretty far away from Mr. Taysom's computer manufacturing class.

Mauricio Sanchez: Yeah, it's always really loud.

Christina Estes: As 32 students learn the latest technology lingo

Mauricio Sanchez: I put in the 512s.

Christina Estes: They pick up some old school lyrics.

Mauricio Sanchez: He wants people to be happy in this class. He doesn't want anybody to fail. He wants everybody to succeed. And I think the music kind of gets people going into doing better.

Christina Estes: For three years Mauricio Sanchez has taken the class and he leads the team of four younger students including freshman Enrique Carrasco.

Enrique Carrasco: I always loved games. I play on PlayStation or a computer or just to play. But didn't actually think the components inside a computer would be something I would be doing later. In high school.

Enrique Carrasco: Come on now. In the beginning. Year we got a computer and we had to take it apart, everything, to where it was empty and put it all back together. Itself surprised because I never really done anything so complicated. But yet it's actually to me now it's easy.

Christina Estes: Tempe is among 15 Arizona schools where teachers train 500 STRUT students.

Christina Estes: The teacher requires each student refurbish at least 18 computers per semester. This stack is waiting to be fixed and this is heading to another school.

Mauricio Sanchez: I am really happy and proud we are able to help other students and other schools with our program.

Christina Estes: According, to Arizona STRUT, nearly 200 schools and charities receive more than 3,000 computers last year thanks to these students.

Enrique Carrasco: It's just a mind blow because I didn't even think of taking a class like there. And now I actually want to take it next year and the year after that.

Ted Simons: Joining us now to tell us more about STRUT is Tom Mehlert, executive director of the program. Good to have you here. Give me a better -- STRUT techie camp, what are we talking about here?

Tom Mehlert: Arizona students recycling is technology. We take all computers from, all computer electronics from anybody here in the state. We use students to do the refurbishing and once the computers are refurbished we donate them out to other schools and nonprofits all here in the state.

Ted Simons: And E-waste is recycled as well. What is E-waste?

Tom Mehlert: E-waste is the electronics that we do not refurbish and that we recycle responsibly.

Ted Simons: OK. This is, these segments focused on education in general.

Tom Mehlert: Right.

Ted Simons: So in general, what are kids learning out of all of this?

Tom Mehlert: The key on the segment that just aired is, we have 700 students, over 700 students in 19, what I will call STRUT schools. These are our partner schools that are helping us refurbish the computers. These are high schools, couple of community colleges, and we have a very few select junior high programs that are helping us work on some computers. The age keeps getting younger all the time that get involved in this. So they are learning to repair, refurbish computer technology. A lot of times it goes into computer networking. That's the core.

Ted Simons: But it sounds like a STEM skills are learned.

Tom Mehlert: Very much. We are always working on STEM, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And we also then do the techie camps. I didn't allude to that earlier. This is geared to a lot of middle school kids. We often do this in the summer with the YMCAs or the boys and girls clubs, where we will take in a computer and we work with at-risk students so if they were at-risk F. they qualify for the free and reduced school lunch program, if they don't have a computer at home, we get them, bring them into a camp, they tear one apart, they put it back together, and then they take it home with them.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Tom Mehlert: So it's not just here's a gift and they are waiting to call tech support a little later when it goes down. They take it home, they have been elbows deep into it and they are going to work on it themselves, get it going and a lot of cases, one. Individuals that was interviewed earlier didn't realize they could do that. And what we want to do is get it in their hands so that it's something that. if it clicks and they are going, oh, I can do this, oh, this eventually is going to lead too me maybe work on an iPhone or iPad because that's where it's leading to, it's the start of those tech skills and education that maybe they didn't think was going to be a good fit for them before.

Ted Simons: I would imagine workplace skills, team work, that sort of thing. That also plays a part, part of the educational process.

Tom Mehlert: Yes. We support, we support that in all the schools. We don't dictate the curriculum, whether it's high school or community college. And there is a lot of team work in that. We also take students interns at our own locations and we have intern volunteers. And it becomes good group bonding kind of experience. The other thing is when we donate the equipment out, to schools or if it's a nonprofit, if the nonprofit comes in and picks up the computers, a lot of times, that class then gets to know what local organization that's doing well, did they just help? Did they support? And that's when I became executive director, I undervalued that immensely. It's really good for our students to see that.

Ted Simons: In terms of the education process here, this program, I would imagine accountability is also learned, communication is also learned. It seems like it's more than just learning sciencey, techie kind of skills.

Tom Mehlert: Right. We kind of trick them into it. The other thing is it's very experiential so there are students that may not be the A students. This is an outstanding program for them. They are doing this and then later on, the vocabulary becomes second nature as opposed to having to pull it out of a textbook or something. The experiential aspect really brings it out.

Ted Simons: Again, everybody is looking for the best way to communicate, connect with kids, to teach them. And sometimes through something like this, they may get lesson that is a whole lot of classroom hours just can't accomplish.

Tom Mehlert: Right. There's a lot of team work. And especially with the, within our camps, we often team them up together at the beginning when we are tearing the computer apart. It's a little less daunting. They are kind teaming up. They don't feel like, oh, if they mess up, it's like, O. I messed up! The other thing business all of our equipment, it's donated and if it damages there's not this big investment in it. So it lessens that, anyway, it makes it a more casual educational environment.

Ted Simons: What kind reaction have you had from the kids? What kinds of reaction have you had from parents?

Tom Mehlert: Oh, both very good. There's a lot of kids that get involved and it's like one of the individuals said before, they didn't think they would like it. Now all of a sudden it's like, oh, I can do this and the parents love it. There's a lot of times where this clicks, and it gets, some cases we have interns that come and they are now doing production work rather than sitting at home watching a game and being a technology user. We are trying to push more being a technology producer.

Ted Simons: Yes.

Tom Mehlert: And that's where we see the greater benefit.

Ted Simons: OK. So if people were watching this and said this is a pretty neat program, I have a computer I don't need anymore, can they donate? How do they donate?

Tom Mehlert: So the big thing is go to azstrut.org and click on donations. Balls we have a number of locations. Some of our high schools will take the donations. We have tough our main location, one in east valley that's open Tuesdays and Thursday, one at metro center mall on Thursday 9-3. We can do pick-ups if the quantity is larger. We have a great need for what we are donating out. We would love corporations to help us out with donations of equipment as well.

Ted Simons: Very good. There are a variety of ways to educate kids and it sounds like STRUT is taking a unique approach. Congratulations on your success.

Tom Mehlert: Thank you.

Tom Mehlert:Executive Director, StRUT;

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