With a tiny screwdriver in his hands, Dylan Nelson set out to put back together a Chromebook he was in the process of rebuilding. A couple of feet away, Shayna Steidl was in the process of ripping apart a Chromebook she had been given to try and fix.
Nelson, an eighth-grader, and Steidl, a seventh-grader, share a love for computers. And just like most of their peers at Discovery Middle School in Alexandria, these two students use their computers for homework, as well as gaming and watching videos on YouTube.
But for Nelson and Steidl, their interest in computers goes much deeper as these two students, along with six other middle school students, are part of the newly formed Genius Team.
So what exactly is the Genius Team?
Mary Kriese, with the middle school's technical support staff and an advisor for the Genius Team, said the team was formed in January and is modeled after the Genius Team at the Alexandria Area High School.
Kriese said it is a group of students who help her with computer problems and issues - from rebooting or reloading software programs to rebuilding the actual computers. She said there are 968 students at Discovery with their own devices, Chromebook computers, and that can spell out a lot of computer issues.
In about three months, Kriese said there were "184 tickets logged" for computer issues that the students fixed, and there were nine successful computer rebuilds performed by the Genius Team.
This not only saves Kriese time that can be spent working on other projects, but it also saves the Alexandria School District money.
"We are saving the district hundreds of dollars," said Kriese, explaining that a new computer can cost roughly $400, but with the students knowledge and skills working with computers, they are able to rebuild the computers instead of purchasing new.
The students, said Kriese, have a very high success rate of rebuilding computers at Discovery.
"They are such an asset to our school," she said.
For Nelson, it's not only the software and hardware aspects of a computer that he likes and finds interesting, but he said it's the complexity that is most intriguing.
"It's kind of like Legos for adults," the self-taught 14-year-old said of when he is working on a rebuild.
Nelson explained that the computer he has at home is one that he built himself. He bought each of the components separately and "just put it together."
Watching tutorials on YouTube is how Nelson learned most of what he knows about computers. Steidl said the same thing. They said you can learn how to do anything watching YouTube videos and that they are "very educational."
Both Nelson and Steidl were recommended by their teachers to join the Genius Team and then they also had to fill out an application to be accepted.
While in her home-base classroom, Steidl said all she really wanted to do was play games on her teacher's computer and that the teacher wanted her instead to interact with other students and make friends. Steidl said she didn't want to do that and liked being by herself on the computer.
When she was told about joining the Genius Team, she was excited because she thought she could just work on the computers by herself.
But it turned into more than, she said.
"I've made friends now and I like it," Steidl said.
Steidl shared a story of one computer she was working on that she had to "rebuild and rebuild and rebuild" that eventually started. However, when it finally turned on, it started smoking and some parts ended up melting.
"I was a little upset at that, but I learned from it and just rebuilt it again and it finally worked," she said.
Nelson chimed in and said, "I would have been distraught by that."
Even though these two students have a few years left before they graduate, they both already have plans for their future.
Steidl said she wants to either be an author or own a business.
Nelson said, "I wanted to be a lawyer, but now I am thinking computer science or something with computers."
DMS Genius Team
8th grade - Dylan Nelson, Zach Kent and Jacob Tiegen
7th grade - Shayna Steidl and Sebastian Billings
6th grade - Elysia Niemczycki, Emily Traut and Stone Smith
Advisors - Lukas Gotto, Morgan Olson, Tessa Lang and Mary Kriese