CARTHAGE, Ill. -- Bradee Finley's love of computers made joining the Tech Club at Illini West High School an easy decision. So was signing up for the school's first-ever digital video production class.
Donovan Squier's focus is computer hardware along with esports and afterschool matches with players across the country.
An upgraded computer lab at Illini West makes all the activities, and others, possible to give students hands-on skills to put to work for themselves and their communities.
"We just have really moved into a lot of different areas within that digital domain," Illini West Information Technology Director Chris Greenhalge said.
Bradee, a sophomore, worked with Adobe Premiere software to put videos together and edit different effects.
"I learned quite a bit. I'll probably end up using it later in life no matter what I do," said Bradee, who also has started to work with 3D software used in video game design and sees technology as a career option.
"We're getting more involved in technology in our daily lives no matter what we do," Donovan said. "Having a basic understanding would be best for everyone in the future."
Greenhalge launched Tech Club in 2015, his first year at Illini West, to learn who the "tech kids" were in the building and to keep them from blowing up his network.
It turned into much more.
"It was a way to both engage kids with technology in a general sense but then also to engage them with the idea of how to engage technology, to do some building, repairing. Since then we've added esports and a digital production studio," Greenhalge said. "I have kids in my office every hour all the time working on some kind of project."
Club meetings draw up to 20 students with some focused on gaming and others on hardware.
A grant provided funds to buy professional camera equipment and editing software, which paved the way to launch a first-time, semester-long digital video production course, taught by Greenhalge and business teacher Suzy Holtsclaw, when classes began in August and to start participating in esports.
"The way we designed the curriculum is the kids get to explore areas they are interested in. Kids work on animation, programming, movie and video editing, photography," Greenhalge said. "Our hope is next year to have it as a yearlong class and hopefully develop some expertise for some kids, to take a year to really explore and hone in on areas they really like."
A class project this year had students making a commercial for Rural Bliss, a Carthage business. "We set it up, planned it out, made a checklist of equipment and filmed it ourselves," Bradee said.
Since then, Greenahlge said there's been more requests from local businesses for video work. "That's going to increase, that idea of being able to give back to the community," he said.
It's been a learning experience not only for the students but for the teachers.
"We don't consider ourselves experts. We learn along with the kids," he said.
Greenhalge hopes to see students gain familiarity with the technology they use every day.
"It's clearly going to be part of their life the rest of their life. Having the ability to at least explore how technology can be utilized, that's very powerful so they don't walk in and panic. They walk in and say ‘I can figure that out. I've done this and done that' and had the opportunity to explore under some guidance."
Club members work with community members on tech needs.
"We will work on any computers kids bring in. Community members can bring systems in," Greenhalge said.
"They fix screens for iPhones, iPads and help with computer issues for just a donation," Illini West Superintendent Kim Schilson said. "If they have a shattered screen and they can fix it, it's good for everybody, good for the kids. The kids are learning how to do stuff."
This year, the district plans to sell some computers which are being phased out "after the kids have gone through and cleaned up -- all the basic help desk stuff to do on a computer," Greenhalge said.
Even Schilson's been known to seek out tech club members or Greenhalge.
"They help me oftentimes," Schilson said. "It's just a matter of it doesn't stick with me."