Students turn class into cash

PANDORA-GILBOA tech students make a presentation recently on Rockettech, a group the students formed this year. The group has produced websites and videos for businesses and places in the area.

PANDORA-GILBOA tech students make a presentation recently on Rockettech, a group the students formed this year. The group has produced websites and videos for businesses and places in the area.


Getting paid for classwork might seem like a student’s dream, but for some Pandora-Gilboa High School students it’s reality.

Students taking a tech class are also part of a group called Rockettech that produces websites, videos and job-training multimedia for businesses and places in the community. The group, named after the school district’s mascot, typically brings in between $500 and $750 per project, said Mark Suter, teacher and adviser to the students in Rockettech.

“The money is really how we sustain ourselves,” Suter said.

The school district does not invest any money in Rockettech, other than allowing the group’s members to work out of one of its computer labs.

Rather than requiring payment for each job, the students in Rockettech ask for a donation to their group.

“Regardless of what we get, they still get the experience of it and that’s what matters,” Suter said.

Although students don’t get to spend the money on themselves, they are able to buy new tools to use in the classroom and to travel across the state to conferences and competitions. Last fall, the students traveled to Columbus for the Ohio Educational Technology Conference to present their projects and business to other high schools, colleges and state officials.

“It’s so much fun to watch them do all this,” Suter said.

Together, students in Rockettech have built websites for Pandora United Methodist Church and the Putnam County Community Improvement Corp., and videos for places such as Mid-Ohio Energy and a nursing program at Diversified Technologies in Findlay.

Although the students piece together projects using HTML coding, Photoshop and video-editing software, none is interested in going into tech fields for a career. Instead, they’re just doing it because they enjoy it.

“Sometimes it can be a bit of a challenge when you’re taking other classes, too, but I really enjoy doing it,” said Sarah Baumgartner, Rockettech’s public relations officer. “It’s a new experience because we’re being taken so seriously.”

Students are also learning how to communicate with clients in a business sense, while also learning how to build a startup firm. Suter said the skills his students are learning are invaluable.

“We’re learning how to communicate with professionals,” said Bradley Walther, president of Rockettech. “It’s different from what other teachers have you do.”

Rockettech formed a year ago when two of Suter’s students came to him with the desire to start a tech club at the high school. Together, the two and Suter put together the idea for Rockettech and recruited a few other students.

While the class is still in its first year, Suter is hoping it will grow and become a model for other districts looking to bring some professional-level tech training to high schools.

“This whole idea is really a win for students,” Suter said.

The group works on projects during the last class period of the day at Pandora-Gilboa High School.

For inspiration, the students look to each other and their teacher. Instead of Googling for ideas, they gather around a campfire application on a smartphone.

“This is all an experiment,” Suter said. “From there they just get up and go to work.”

The virtual campfire brainstorming session is one part of the group’s unique approach to learning and entrepreneurship. Rockettech’s motto, “fail harder,” encourages the students to put everything they can into their projects and to be fearless in their execution.

“We don’t care if we screw up a few times. We have to have that mindset every day,” Suter said. “It’s good for them to fall down sometimes.”

For more information on Rockettech and their projects, you can visit their website.

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