`Wow, This is Really Working!' Annandale High Newcomers Make Computers in Student-Led Workshop

Woodson Weekly
June 22, 2021

Annandale High School educator Meredith Hedrick was impressed but hesitant when a Woodson High School sophomore who lived in her neighborhood said he hoped to teach a class full of kids how to assemble their own desktop computer as part of his Eagle Scout project.


Ian Wallace told her he wanted to organize a charity drive to collect old computers or computer parts that could be repurposed into desktops. Next, he said, he planned to instruct a group of lower income students how to make their own device.


“This was really ambitious,” Hedrick, who is the chair of the school’s English as a Second Language (ESOL) Department, said.


But Ian pulled it off – he obtained donations, ensured everything worked, wrote a “how-to” manual in English and enlisted fellow Boy Scouts, including students at Frost Middle School to serve as his assistants in the May 17 computer building workshop at Annandale H.S.


Hedrick located a group of students who were newcomers to the U.S. and asked if they wanted to learn how to build – and then keep – their own desktop computer. Eight students, hailing from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Sierra Leone, readily agreed – often asking if Hedrick was certain they were going to keep the computers at the end.  

Frost Middle School students assisted Wallace in running the desktop building workshop.
Frost Middle School students assisted Wallace in leading the desktop building workshop



“These were kids who had been attending school on Monday all year long, going above and beyond and taking advantage of every opportunity available for their education,” Hedrick said.


Ian wanted to work with students whose families would benefit from having an additional computer at home, to work on college essays, research or stay active online during the summer. Some students shared they were also eager to use the computers to do traditional American teenager things as well, like play video games and watch YouTube, on sites that may not be accessible on school-issued devices.


Annandale parent liaison Marleni Benitez, translated Ian’s instruction manual into Spanish, while two more, ESOL teachers J.J. Day and Becky Young, served as translators while Wallace led the 3.5 hour workshop.


“Some of the kids didn’t speak English, but it all just flowed,” Hedrick said, noting that sometimes students would get out a phone to use Google translate if necessary. “When people are new to the country, they go through a process of getting used to a new culture for six months or so and getting a student to smile is a big deal,” she said. “Everyone here was smiling and laughing the whole time.”  

Annandale High grad Fatima Kamara, who plans to study nursing at Northern Virginia Community College's honors program in the fall, gets to keep the desktop she built for use in college.
Annandale grad Fatima Kamara, who plans to study nursing at Northern Virginia Community College's honors program in the fall, gets to keep the desktop she built for use in college.


Fatima Kamara, a Sierra Leone-born senior at Annandale H.S. who built her own desktop through Wallace’s workshop, said the computer will be useful to her as she completes coursework in Northern Virginia Community College’s honors program in the fall. Kamara intends to study nursing, but says the experience made her consider a career in information technology as well. Her family was excited to add a desktop computer to their household, she said.

“My dad is so happy, he says `Wow, this is really working!,” Kamara said.