Georgia school makes room for IT savvy

Georgia school makes room for IT savvy

Students learn more than technical skills through computer project

By Claire E. House

GCN Staff

A little educational innovation and some elbow grease have brought a wired smart room to Cass High School in Cartersville, Ga., and technological expertise to several of its students.

The room's floor stands just three inches above the building's actual floor. It hides a web of wires, cables and jacks that are accessible through small holes in the floor and well-covered when not in use.

Students at a Georgia high school built a smart room that hides network and electrical connections under the floor.

'You could have a classroom training session here today and a reception tonight and not be tripping over floor grommets,' said David Dautel, chief operating officer of Connect Center Inc., the Cartersville company that sells the setup.

The project began in 1998.

A student had built his own computer from parts and often helped out fixing school computers. Assistant principal Jeannie Buck asked him what the school could do for him educationally, and he suggested a class that would teach students skills such as developing Web pages or building computers.

On right course

The school approved a course for the second semester and put out the call. About 13 students with varied backgrounds signed up.

'Some were at the high end of academic success, and some were more academically challenged but were also computer gurus,' Buck said.

Buck found out about Connect Center's smart-room setup from a friend. With no money in the budget for technology, the students decided to raise money for equipment and install the floor themselves.

Vendor representative Chuck Bliss teaches cable termination to Cass High School students Josh Long, Alton Vandiver, Samantha Albert and Keith Mercer.

The students initially broke into committees for the project, said former student Alton Vandiver, who graduated in June. There were cable, computer-aided design, electrical, flooring, fund-raising and project management groups. Vandiver was on the CAD team, and his floor design was the one ultimately implemented.

Four businesses each donated one computer to the effort, and all but one Connect Center supplier donated equipment and training for floor installation.

Donations totaled $4,000 in computers and $30,000 for the setup, which includes flooring, carpeting, floor boxes, wiring, cabling, a patch panel and a cabinet closet.

Lining the floor's bottom are plastic cones. Cass installed nine floor boxes with four electrical outlets and four RJ-45 jacks each; the boxes come in other configurations and can also include fiber and audiovisual connections. Each Cass box is color-coded to match the 36 floor terminations with the 36 in the wiring closet. Students terminated 64 of the 72 RJ-45s.

Atop the boxes and wiring sit 19-inch-square metal panels that serve as the room's raised floor. Panels with floor boxes below also have an 11-inch-square cutout, in which sits either a 'manhole cover' that makes the floor surface flush or a grommeted lid cover with two holes for connecting equipment to the boxes.

As a result, users can simply move floor panels, cabling and floor boxes'and thus computers'without requiring additional drilling or wiring, Dautel said.

'Every time I go over there, the room is in a different configuration,' he said.

Atop the floor is modular carpeting that can easily be pulled up to accommodate configuration changes. The school's manhole covers sport a patch of carpet with the Connect Center logo, but covers can also show off other company logos or simply another color to indicate floor box locations.

While constructing the setup, the team faced only two wrinkles: One floor box needed repositioning because it was too close to a ramp near the door, and there was one bad preterminated cable, Vandiver said.

The class has brought some students more than just knowledge. Vandiver, who is studying music at Barry College, has a side job designing company Web pages. Another student teaches basic computing at homes in her community for an hourly fee. Another, through a work-release program, is paid by the school district to do technology work.

On the nontechnical side, the course taught students professional skills as they developed business partners: Look people in the eye, give a firm handshake, speak professionally. Some spoke on a local TV news program about the project.

Buck said she has seen a rise in some students' self-esteem, enjoyment of school and overall academic performance. The course has also encouraged girls to enter the technology arena, she said.

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