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Seventh-grader Drew Houck used a laptop during class Sept. 17 at Maria Regina School in Seaford, N.Y. Whether operating with remote or in-person learning, Catholic schools are requiring increased assistance from their IT teams, which sometimes are volunteers.
Seventh-grader Drew Houck used a laptop during class Sept. 17 at Maria Regina School in Seaford, N.Y. Whether operating with remote or in-person learning, Catholic schools are requiring increased assistance from their IT teams, which sometimes are volunteers.
Photo Credit: Gregory A. Shemitz | Long Island Catholic

Tech-whiz ‘heroes’ help learning continue across cyberspace during pandemic

As Catholic schools adjust to education during a pandemic, technology support is crucial

PORTLAND, Ore. — They built Web pages and mastered robots, addressed login issues, responded to a deluge of software-related questions and even stood atop wobbly ladders to fix glitchy Wi-Fi extenders.

Many professionals have been dubbed heroes of the pandemic, and schools’ tech whizzes — those who’ve ensured teachers could teach and students could learn — should likely be counted in that esteemed mix.

For nearly a year, Catholic school students nationwide have reaped the benefits of often behind-the-scenes technology experts whose jobs have taken on a new significance. Across the country, some schools have returned to full-time in person learning, some remained with full-time virtual learning, and others operate under one of various hybrid models.

During the pandemic, Ellie Gilbert’s responsibilities swelled. Gilbert is St. Mary’s Academy in Portland’s director of instructional media and education technology. She created online resources for teachers and ran tech training camps.

She also hosts morning drop-in tech sessions with the information technology director and his assistant. “If I can give teachers a minute back in their day, that’s my marker of success,” she said.

Pre-pandemic, St. Mary’s Academy, like most Catholic high schools in western Oregon, had integrated technology into classes and had experience with designated distance-learning days. But teachers had not employed technology for long-term instruction.

The pandemic, Gilbert said, meant even the most experienced educators were like first-year teachers again.

“Yet the best teachers are the most experienced learners in the room,” she told the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

Craig Huseby, IT director at Jesuit High School in Portland, echoed Gilbert when describing one of the pandemic’s biggest hurdles.

“We had the learning tools and experience with digital learning days, but curriculum was not set up for the long-haul,” he said. “People underestimated how difficult that would be to transition to a virtual environment.”

“This experience showed me that if you commit to quality remote content it can be done. I’ve been amazed at how much has been accomplished,” he said.

At small Catholic elementary schools, official tech support positions do not typically exist.

Rosemarie El Youssef is first-year principal of St. Therese School in Portland. “I am the IT team,” she said, laughing. She quickly added that she has received essential support from the school and broader Catholic community.

When El Youssef began the job last summer, the school had outdated technology, teachers had limited training, and there essentially was no bandwidth.

“I was resetting passwords, walking people through Google Classroom and updating the school website. I’ve also spent time atop a ladder trying to fix a Wi-Fi extender that wasn’t working,” El Youssef said.

This is the first time El Youssef has worked at a Catholic school, and she has been grateful for her proximity to a church.

“I spent a lot of time sitting in the church, sometimes crying, sometimes praying for direction,” she said. “But I feel closer to God than ever, and the kids and their faith is so beautiful. They are why we’ve been doing this.”

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