It’s an unpretentious little outpost. If you were to take a tour of Notre Dame, it’d be easy to miss. But tucked away on the lower level of the West Wing – in what used to be the old exercise room (and before that, the girls’ locker room) – is the very nerve center of NDP: The Technology Department. From this windowless, cinderblock bunker, Technology Director, Dave Hennel, and his crackerjack team of network administrators, technicians, and specialists keep things humming at NDP. Together, they serve the technological needs of every staff member, teacher, and student. In the age of a SMARTboard in every classroom, a laptop in every backpack, daily downloads, constant updates, soft ware, hard drives, dedicated servers and interactive projectors…Dave and his team of techs are indispensible! They’re the go-to guys whenever a cable needs fixing, a computer needs repairing, or batteries and bulbs need replacing.
Laptops are mandatory at NDP. Every high school student must have one. And every teacher uses technology in multiple ways in the classroom. That’s a lot of potential ‘technical difficulties’ for Dave’s department! Currently, they have 2 troubleshooters on staff, which means there’s always someone at the help desk, even if the other is dispatched to a classroom. Which is good, because the girls come in with sluggish, unresponsive, even fractured laptops on a regular basis. The center is the digital ER of NDP.
“The girls keep their laptop in their backpacks,” Help desk tech, Kathy Sherinsky explained. “And those backpacks get thrown around and dropped down 100 times a day.”
As if on cue, a senior came into the center, dropped her 20 pound backpack to the floor with a thud and pulled out her laptop, which was in need of a check up.
“See what I mean?” Kathy said with a sigh. “Good thing each laptop has a superb 4 year warranty. A student can bring her computer in in pieces. We’ll get it fixed.”
The Technology Department, however, is not just reactive. They’re proactive. They not only keep the place running smoothly, but keep everyone digitally up to date. That means making sure the girls also swing by with their laptops for occasional software updates, swap outs, and installations. Motivated strictly by the academic welfare of the students, the techs are not above threatening to report a girl to the Dean of Students if she doesn’t swing by! Kathy said the last time she resorted to that, 20 girls came rushing in with their laptops at the same time.
“It’s simple,” Kathy explained. “If you don’t get updated, you can’t do your school work. If you can’t do your school work, you fall behind. Nobody wants to see that happen.” It takes a village!
Notre Dame has long been a leader in the use of technology in education. It is a progressive school that believes strongly in keeping pace with the digital age and all that it has to offer, while also keeping a well-trained eye on its essential mission. Department head, Dave Hennel puts it this way:
“We’re driven by one rule and that is: the curriculum shouldn’t support the technology. The technology should support the curriculum.” That means not only using technology, but using it effectively and creatively, and for the sole purpose of improving education, sparking imaginations, and expanding minds. While they stress technological uniformity throughout the school (so that every student can access the same information in the same way without device specific difficulty) they also know the world of technology is a moving target. So, together, Dave and the leadership of NDP keep their collective finger on the pulse of developing technological and educational trends. Today, technology is used in every aspect of the school experience. I asked Kathy what it would look like if they didn’t incorporate technology into the curriculum.
“It would look like the Dark Ages. Every girl here has mastered programs like Powerpoint, Excel, Photoshop, and I-Movie. They use them in their presentations and reports. If we didn’t have technology, it would go back to, ‘Write me a 500 word essay on’…”
Like everything at NDP, the Technology Department is an integral part of the school team. Not only do they interact with the students and staff on a daily basis serving their technical needs, but they are involved with them academically as well. To that end they created the Student Technology Assistants initiative (STArs), an extracurricular, computer technology program. It’s an official school club with student officers and is moderated by the tech department’s other help desk technician, Rosie Graf.
“It’s great,” Rosie explained. “The girls come down to the tech center on their lunch break and learn about software and hardware, computer repair, and even a little bit about programming.” The STArs get a chance to practice their new skills throughout the school. They also take field trips to places like System Source, an IT training center in Hunt Valley and to the Goddard Space Center where they learn about the technology behind the space program. Rosie, whose background is in education, loves seeing the girls develop an interest in technology.
“Their lives are so inextricably linked with technology now. It’s such a part of them. Such a part of the world around them. It’s great to see them become interested in it beyond picture sharing and music files.”
Now, if we could just get them to drop those backpacks a little more gently… A tech can dream, can’t she?