Technology Updates: Summer Projects Keep IT Staff Busy

Maintaining and updating technology in any organization is not only a full-time task, but also an expensive one. During the summer months, the IT staff at the Academy is especially hard at work evaluating, testing, repairing and replacing computers and other electronic devices as well as upgrading our technology infrastructure so that everything will be in place and ready to go when the school year begins. We are pleased to report on several of our current technology projects, including two that were funded by our own parents and students.

Technology Upgrades in the Library Lab

Back in 1994, the Dr. Gwen K. Smith Technology Enriched Learning Center (located in the library) and the Kenneth Kendal King Information Technology Center (located on the second floor of the high school academic building) were dedicated on the Academy campus. These centers housed the first two computer labs on campus, opening the door for technology-assisted instruction. It’s hard to believe how much our technology program has expanded since that time!

This summer, thanks to the fundraising efforts of our parents, the SMA Booster Club donated $5,000 for computer upgrades in the library tech lab. With this gift, the Academy was able to obtain 16 new Lenovo All in One computers, which have now been deployed in the library tech lab. They will be used for our new Adapative Learning Environment (ALE) testing, computer based testing, and middle school students who need to use PC’s. This has also allowed SMA to refurbish its old computers and make them ready for donation to a needy school or church, making the Boosters’ donation the gift that keeps on giving!

Senior Class Wi-Fi Gift

The Senior Class of 2016 also had technology improvements in mind when they choose to present a donation for improved wireless service on campus as their Senior Gift. The $1500 donation was specifically earmarked to help improve wireless connectivity in the dormitories. Our IT staff used the funds to purchase new, high-quality (CAT6) cabling, high performance connectors, and wi-fi ID stickers. These items will be installed as replacement for some of the older wiring in the dorms. IT has spent approximately 30 hours already this summer working on the wi-fi upgrades in the dorms. When students return in the fall, they should notice better and more reliable connectivity in both the boys and girls dormitories.Thank you to the Class of 2016 for this thoughtful and practical gift.

Middle School 1:1 Tablet Program

In 2011, the Academy launched a 1:1 netbook pilot program for freshman students to determine the viability of such a program on our campus. With the success of the pilot, the program was expanded to include ninth and tenth grade students the following year and by 2013, all high school students were required to have a laptop computer for school.  Our e-campus initiative now includes an Online Academy, offering both blended and distance courses, in our ongoing effort to create a 24-7-365 learning environment that well prepares students for college and beyond. The SMA faculty has also undergone extensive training to adapt our curriculum and learn new methods for incorporating technology in the classroom.

In 2016-17, a 1:1 Tablet Program will be implemented in the Middle School so that our sixth through eighth grade students can learn the proper use of modern technology within a context of Christian morals and ethics. The program will allow the middle school students to train on some of the same applications, such as Google Apps for Education, that that high school students use so they will be well prepared to navigate technology requirements upon entrance to the ninth grade.

Each middle school student will be issued a Samsung Galaxy Tab A at the beginning of the school year (free of charge). These tablets will include a rugged style case for device protection as well as device warranty and service coverage to ensure the longevity of the device. The devices will include an app blocker and other software to foster appropriate use. The tablets will be collected at the end of the year, and students would only be charged if there is damage to the device.

Funds are being raised to cover the cost of the 1:1 Tablet Program so that families will not have to bear that additional cost. Also, funds are being raised to replace and refresh some of the aging laptops in the Middle School so that teachers will be able to use these devices when needed for testing and other projects in which a laptop is required.

Security and Other Technology Updates

Another task keeping the IT staff busy this summer is adding the latest software and security patches to our staff, faculty and administration computers. Last year, all of the faculty and several staff and administrators were provided with new Dell Optiplex systems with dual screens. (These dual screens were added to enable our teachers to better monitor student activity on laptops during classroom sessions.) The funds for these upgrades were provided by Academy donors, thanks to the work of our Development Office. When the software and security updates are completed this summer, the faculty will be all set for the new school year.

Transitioning Campus to Google Apps

A final summer project for our IT staff will be transitioning all SMA personnel from the domain to the doman on Google Apps (gmail). This will be a major shift in how SMA handles conducts e-business in the school and offices as the entire campus moves to cloud-based email, calendaring and document repository and away from local computer servers. The move will necessitate some new email addresses, particularly for our faculty and students. The IT staff wants former students (and current faculty) to know that archived emails and documents on the domain will still be accessible, but students and faculty will all be receiving a new SMA email address during registration or during the first week of school. Stay tuned for more information on this transition as it is finalized during the remaining weeks of summer.

–Information contributed by Matt McNeil, Director of IT