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Technology in Mon Schools: From e-Gaming intricacies to keeping chicken tenders safe for lunch

A chicken tender can’t take up for itself — but Monongalia County Schools can.

Should any freezer unit across the district begin an unplanned thaw, be it by power failure or a compressor issue, Brian Kiehl’s smartphone will immediately chirp with texts and emails of warning.

Kiehl is the director of child nutrition services for Mon Schools, and he’s able to keep track of such occurrences because of interconnecting technology.

Chris Urban, the district’s technology director, gave an overview of it all to Board of Education members Monday.

Lunch menus can be costly, she said.

And the supply chain issues of today, she added, are making food even more expensive.

That can mean substantial legal tender for those chicken tenders over the course of the school year.

Meanwhile, Mon’s district has been wired up for the past several years.

“Everybody assumes it’s just about Chromebooks,” Urban said, referring to the district-issued laptops used by everyone from custodians to the school principal.

The coronavirus made the Chromebook a household name in the annals of school technology in 2020.

That was when Gov. Jim Justice ordered all schools to remote learning as COVID cases began to mount — and that was when students, teachers and everyone else in the district had to adjust.

Urban told the BOE that Chromebooks these days are just part of the proceedings.

So is maintenance and upkeep, she said.

Six full-time technicians are in the Office of Technology she oversees, and they can handle everything from cracked screens to soda spilled on keyboards.

The pandemic, Urban said, made students more mindful.

“I think the biggest change is that students are realizing they don’t want to be without,” Urban said.

Still, she said, the techs are philosophical when accidents happen — because they will.

“I got an email from a parent saying, ‘I ran over my son’s Chromebook.’ Oops.”

Meanwhile, the rundown for all those things interconnected to Chromebooks include adaptive technologies for students with certain needs, to 3-D printers — and maybe even a little bit of Silicon Valley on Mississippi Street.

The latter is where MTEC, the Monongalia County Technical Education Center, is located.

Housed within its walls is the district’s eSports gaming program, which teaches students how to create and launch games and other systems of their own.

The district wants to eventually add an e-technology wing to the existing building, complete with complete corporate sponsorships and the latest electronic offerings out there.

Students aren’t just “playing games,” said Brigitte Barlow, who teaches interactive media and design there.

What they’re really doing is role-playing at being on future tech-teams, the likes of which currently populate the aforementioned Silicon Valley.

Tech is growing up and getting ready to graduate, the student said.

“The way we can use technology can only bring better things to the world,” he said.

“Technology is getting bigger and everything is warping around it, whether we like it or not.”

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