By Rivki Fialkoff
Until last spring, I always started my day by checking my email. Since then, it seems like I walk into a different crisis every day. This is my new reality as the education technology liaison at Bais Yaakov High School, a private Jewish school for girls in Baltimore.
A year ago, my portfolio consisted of maintaining the school computers, running all technology-related programming, helping with extracurricular activities and supporting the student and faculty technology needs. However, since COVID became our new existence, my responsibilities have shifted dramatically to include so many new dimensions.
A year ago, I fretted about making sure all hardware and software were in working order, researching new school software programs and helping maintain all the technology needs of a high school that boasts more than 450 students and 100 staff members. Today, my team and I continue to perform these tasks while at the same time supporting all the myriad distance-learning needs.
Like many professionals in the field of education who are not teachers, I am extremely busy during the summer. Typically, I install updates and run maintenance on the approximately 300 computers throughout the school’s 30 classrooms and six computer labs. But this summer put previous years to shame.
While students and teachers were relishing their time at home, on vacation and nowhere near a school building, I and my peers spent those days and weeks brainstorming and sorting through the constellation of options that could or should happen when school opened in September and beyond. Our worst fear and biggest stress was that a scenario would rear up for which we had not prepared.
Thankfully, we were very prepared and had every single one of our students and teachers set up with a school email address, access to Google Classroom and a tablet with KZOOM (Kosher Zoom) that uses either data or Wi-Fi, depending on each family’s internet access capability. Every single elementary, middle and high school classroom now boasts Zoom capability and a new camera that captures the board and the teacher beside it. We also installed microphones so that students at home can hear teachers in the classroom and bought extra cameras and equipment to temporarily install in any class where students are present and the teacher is teaching from home. Using the projector in the room allows the teacher to see the class in addition to the students seeing the teacher. On a day-to-day basis, our technology team fields numerous questions and crises mostly related to connectivity, learning to use the new technology, finding educational resources and best practices for distance learning.
In today’s real, virtual, hybrid educational system, people like me who bridge the gap between the technology arm and the educational arm of the school cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Thankfully, we get strong support and encouragement from the administration who demonstrate their appreciation with messages and gifts. Like most Jewish women, I could not do any of this focused, time-consuming work without the staunch support of my husband and children, as well as competent cleaning help, as we strive to stay afloat during this journey through uncharted waters.
If only I had known last year what was coming up the pike, I would have taken a vacation!
Rivki Fialkoff is the education technology liaison at Bais Yaakov High School. This is the first in a series on topics in education facilitated by The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education, an agency of the Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, with the partnership of local schools and educators. CJE promotes and facilitates lifelong learning that nurtures Jewish identity and strengthens Jewish community.