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Students teaching class, making mark on Web

By Greg Gelpi

Neo in The Matrix saw computer code, rather than the images created by the code, and students at Riverdale High School are getting close to that with their Web designs.

"The Firm," a group of three Riverdale High Technology Student Association students, each apply their area of expertise to deciphering Web pages and creating their own Web publications.

Harsh Patel, Thai Truong and Jonathan Saethang have designed Web pages since the age of 11 or 12 and have worked together for years, feeding off each other's ideas and creativity.

"You can learn from books, but it really comes from the passion to create," Truong said, and each has his own style and flare of designing.

Saethang, the writer and editor of the trio, said troubleshooting is the biggest challenge of creating a corner of the Web.

"A lot of times you find broken links and things like that," he said. "A lot of times you can't find where the problem is."

Working together as one can also be difficult, Patel said.

"Our trick is to compensate and compromise," Truong said. "Giving my two cents helps them learn what I learn. Doing what we love to do, we have fun with it."

Although each one is planning a different career path, they all got into technology at an early age.

"What got me into this was my first printer, and it had software with it," said Truong, the graphics and design element of the team. Tinkering with the printer and software sparked an interest in technology and computers that hasn't burned out.

The trio designed a site for the nonprofit group SCORE Atlanta in a week and a half, winning the Technology Association of Georgia's 2004 WebChallenge. The three members won a trophy and $1,000 scholarships, winning first place overall as well as first place for most secure site, second place for best graphic design, third place for best use of theme and third place for best use of marketing.

"This is one of those things that makes you want to come to work the next day," TSA sponsor Steve Price said.

The students in TSA are among the brightest in the school with most ranking in the top 10 percent of their class, he said.

"We recognize the fact that technology changes so fast that the teachers have to keep up as fast as the students do," Price said. "It's almost like a clubhouse for kids who like technology."

Price confessed that the "The Firm" has surpassed his knowledge of Web design, calling members of the team before the class to demonstrate and teach some of their techniques and share some of their knowledge.

"These guys have allowed me some input," he said, adding that the team is open to suggestions. "Sometimes they teach me."

"The Firm" is part of a Riverdale High TSA program that narrowly missed winning the state TSA championship. The team scored 176 points, two shy of first place.

The team will compete at the national TSA championships in Nashville, Tenn., in June.

In only its sixth year as a program at Riverdale High, the team finds itself in need of building more shelves. The six shelves in the technology classroom are covered with the team's winning trophies.

With most of the team returning next year and "talent breeding talent," team members said they will win first place in the state next year.