At Nogales High School, the campus technician has his hands full overseeing an estimated 800 computers. So when teachers have software or hardware issues that the tech can’t immediately attend to, they often reach out to students in the school’s information technology program.
“Sometimes I ask the teacher, ‘Why do you call me, we have a tech,’ and they say, ‘I know but you’re faster,’” said IT program instructor Robert Lugo, adding that he’s sympathetic to the tech’s workload. “I know he’s busy,” he said.
The IT classes, part of the career and technical program at the high school, offer students the chance to learn the ins and outs of computers – not to mention gain customer service experience while attending to teachers’ calls for help. Lugo proudly discussed the accomplishments of current and former students last Thursday as he looked back at his nine years teaching at the high school.
“It gives me goose bumps,” he said as he looked at photo collages of former students plastered on his classroom wall.
Lugo teaches four courses: information technology fundamentals, a beginners course in which students learn coding, how to build web pages and work with different software; CISCO I and II, which examines networking concepts; and computer maintenance, in which students use their skills to work on computers on the NHS campus.
Students in the program are also encouraged to join the Apache Geek Squad, an on-campus student organization that is a member of SkillsUSA, a nationwide organization for students and instructors in career and technical education, or CTE.
Apache Geek Squad
The student organization, which started in November 2009, has about 40 members this year. Lugo said he recruits students from his classes each year and pushes for more female students to be involved with the group.
The group attends several SkillsUSA-sponsored conferences throughout the year and participates in a technology competition where students are tested on hardware, software and how to deal with clients over the phone.
“It’s not an easy competition,” said senior Joaquin Ramos, the Apache Geek Squad president, adding that competitors must also assemble a working computer in 15 minutes and build a Cat5 ethernet cable.
Last year the team received bronze, Lugo said. The highest an NHS student has placed was second, he added.
Ramos, who plans to study criminology or IT at either Arizona State University or San Diego State University in the fall, said being a member of the organization and SkillsUSA has helped him become more confident when applying for jobs.
The organization also takes two field trips a year, including trips to the Apple and Bose Showcase stores at La Encantada shopping center in Tucson and the Microsoft Store in Scottsdale.
The Nogales Unified School District also sponsors a trip to the district network operating center where students can see the servers the NUSD system runs on, and the Santa Cruz County operating center hosts a visit as well.
“It’s all about exposure,” Lugo said. “We practice technology because it’s changing all the time.”
But exposure comes at a cost.
To raise money for competitions and trips, Lugo said, the Apache Geek Squad hosts video game nights in his classroom. Students pay a fee to play on one of four projector screens.
Recently the group hosted a Super Smash Bros. tournament and will host a FIFA tournament later in the year.
“Ever wondered what 100 nerds in a room looked like?” Ramos joked.
Lugo also sells snacks from his classroom and provides computer maintenance work to students and teachers throughout the district in exchange for a donation to the organization.
Currently, students are cleaning up two laptops that have been running slow.
“Most of the time we’re paid in goodies, brownies, cookies, cakes,” he said, adding later: “I always tell (my students) that there are more ways to get paid than just money. It’s also about getting experience.”
Love for technology
Lugo first fell in love with technology as a kid when he received a Magnavox Odyssey video game controller for Christmas one year.
“I had to know how it worked so I opened it up and took it apart,” he said, adding that the controller never worked again.
After spending several years in the restaurant business, Lugo and his family moved to Nogales when his wife was hired as the band teacher at Desert Shadows Middle School.
Wanting to move back to Tucson, Lugo said, the principal at Desert Shadows asked his wife what interested him. The answer was technology.
Lugo became the first information technology technician at NHS 20 years ago.
“When I started there were only five computers at the school,” he said. “When I brag that I built this network, it’s because I built this network.”
He went on to work at the district office before returning to teach at NHS nine years ago.
“I’m lucky that I get to teach something that’s cool and not going away,” Lugo said.
As he looked at the pictures of students in the Apache Geek Squad, he pointed out individuals that have left a lasting impression on him: one of the first female members of the Apache Geek Squad, the organization’s first president, and the students who have paid their way through college by working in IT.
“I like to brag about how nerdy they are,” Lugo said.