As schools tussle
with high tech, company
helps teens leap the gap
Volunteers guide kids in masteringBy Lori Tighe
the computer skills employers want
All Chiman Wong originally wanted to do was learn how to fix her computer when it crashed.
Nurtured by volunteer techie tutors in the community, she now knows programming, Web design, and wants to be a dot.com woman -- a creator of a hot Web site.
"I learned a lot about coding and it opened my eyes," said the soft-spoken, kind of shy Kalani High School sophomore.
High school students like Wong who have surpassed their teachers' knowledge of computers have been taken under the wing of Jeff Bloom, owner of Computer Training Academy in Honolulu.
All day Saturdays, and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, teens hop city buses to arrive at the academy and learn about programming, Web designing and coding for free.
"To me, it's community service. We have to share some of the things we know. They're our kids, they're our future," Bloom said, holding his 1-year-old grandson, Justice, visiting the company for the afternoon.
If Hawaii is to succeed in drawing a high-tech industry, it must provide the talent pool, Bloom said.
He called Microsoft, which he partners with in Hawaii, and asked the company to donate developmental software to schools. The company agreed, if Bloom's company would teach willing students how to use it.
Bloom also realized he had to teach some teachers, such as Ryan Kusuda, a social studies teacher at Kalani.
"I don't know if I had a defeatist attitude. I just didn't have the knowledge to give kids a chance. I feel I'm doing my job now," Kusuda said.
Teachers' salaries pay significantly less than computer jobs, which increases the gap in what children can learn about computers in school, Kusuda said.
"It's not just Hawaii, it's happening all over," Bloom said.
He believes that by capturing high schoolers' interest in a real working environment, more of them will flow into technology fields faster.
"Company presidents give me their cards all the time at cocktail parties and tell me 'I've got 10 positions open,' 'I've got 15 positions open, call me.' "
Bloom's company places people in jobs as well as training them in an array of computer skills.
Fred Akalin, a senior at Kalani, said he went beyond his teachers' computer knowledge in the seventh grade, one year after he received his first computer. He learned about his computer on his own and through friends.
"The kind of instruction I want, schools couldn't afford. I would have learned a lot more with instruction."
Accepted to Stanford University, Akalin wants to major in computer science.
Since he interned at the academy, Akalin has redesigned Kalani's interactive Web page and made it easier for teachers to keep students updated. For instance, a student out sick can log into the site and find out that day's homework assignment.
Students from across Oahu have attended the Computer Training Academy, which culls them from Tech Quest, an annual technology competition at Blaisdell Center. This year's will be Oct. 26 and 27.
"It changed my life," said Kenta Nemoto, another senior at Kalani. He will be going to Kapiolani Community College to study computers.
Nemoto learned advanced animation software, which sparked his interest in using his artistic talent in Web design. "I didn't see myself into computer stuff. I thought it was too hard.
"They showed me I could do this stuff. I could be working on really big projects if I take the time to learn."
For information on Tech Quest, log on to www.hitechquest.com.