BELMONT CRAGIN — When computers break at Prosser Career Academy, no one calls the Geek Squad.
That's because the Northwest Side school utilizes a group of 115 students to fix everything from laptops and desktops to video projectors and televisions as part of its Advanced Technology Group.
The extra-curricular program was started in 2007 by Prosser technology coordinator Sebastian Siezckowski as a way for a handful of students to help him with remedial tasks, like moving around computers and printers.
It's evolved into a game-changer at Prosser, which has saved about $500,000 since its inception, said Siezckowski, a Prosser alum. Students now know how to install software like Microsoft Office, and take apart and assemble the school's 550 computers in minutes.
Students meet before and after school, as well as during their lunch periods, to get the technical training.
Among the group's other tasks are serving as videographers during Prosser plays and musicals, and performing disc jockey work at local grammar schools. The students also teach adults during free computer classes, including Microsoft certification, on Saturdays. And they've worked with DeVry University to help repair donated computers that are then given to needy schools and nonprofits.
When Prosser needed a new camera security system, the tech students did the work.
When Prosser's intercom system from the 1950s stopped working, the students figured out how to update it using amplifiers typically used for cars and connecting a computer to the system, creating digital-quality sound.
"We are extremely passionate about what we do," said Siezckowski, 28, of Portage Park. He noted the students are not paid, but their participation fulfills Service Learning and CAS (Creativity, Action and Service) hours at the STEM school.
Siezckowski employs two part-time assistants, Prosser grads and Humboldt Park residents Jose Radilla and David Rangel, both 20 and students at Illinois Institute of Technology and DePaul University, respectively.
Radilla, a computer science major, said people are "always completely shocked that students this young know this much about technology." Rangel, an information technology major, said he "loves sharing knowledge with the current ATG students."
The group crosses all boundaries. Most of Prosser's boys soccer team is in the program. Half of the Falcons' football players are involved, including senior offensive and defensive lineman Trevon Slaughter. When he's not tackling opponents, the 17-year-old Slaughter is in charge of maintaining 35 computers in a lab.
"When it comes to ATG, we're more of a family, advancing in technology," said Slaughter, of Austin, who wants to major in environmental biology in college.
"It's not just a bunch of computer geeks. We're all friends who support each other in all our endeavors," Slaughter added.
To that end, upper-class tech students make sure freshman and sophomore members learn things correctly and efficiently. General manager, Ruby Tabar, a 17-year-old senior from Humboldt Park, pairs more advanced students with neophytes. She also organizes a maintenance schedule and keeps track of attendance and project completion.
"It's one of the most welcoming places ever," said Tabar, who wants to double major in finance and communications, while minoring in Spanish. "If you come in with an attitude that you want to learn, people are here to help you in any aspect they can."
Before senior Christopher Horigan, 18, of Humboldt Park, started in the tech group, he said he "didn't even know how to spell Cisco."
Now Horigan, whose nickname is "Zero" — a nod to computer binary code — has plans to develop a new operating system like Windows.
His goal: "I'd like people of all ages to come to my computer and use it to their fullest extent."