Every day at Rowland Hall, students have their limits tested by a challenging curriculum and by mentors. It helps them grow. But what happens when the curriculum and mentors are pushed by challenging students?
At the beginning of the school year, members of Rowland Hall’s technology team were approached by a number of ninth-grade students who had a complaint: they wanted to be able to do more on their school-issued laptops, but the current administrative settings wouldn’t let them. The restrictions were impeding their ability to grow as coders, they said. They didn’t just want more access, they needed it to learn.
The tech team is used to complaints, but not like this. They decided to try something new. They came to the students with an offer they couldn’t refuse.
“They challenged us to hack through the protections,” said Eli Hatton. “They said if we could do it they would let us keep the access instead of revoking it.”
This isn’t to say the tech team didn’t have their reservations. And they had very good reasons to say no. But they also knew this was an opportunity.
This isn’t to say the tech team didn’t have their reservations. And they had very good reasons to say no. But they also knew this was an opportunity. “We are always interested in cybersecurity,” said Alan Jeppson, associate director of technology. “Sometimes the only way to know if our security is working is to try and break it.”
Break it they did: the ninth graders were able to gain the access they desired, and then walked the tech team exactly what they had done so the weakness could be resolved. And thus the Rowland Hall Debugging Club was born.
“First thing we did was have them write a contract for acceptable use with their new machines,” said Alan. “Then we started looking around the school for more projects.”
It didn’t take long to find them. Upper School Assistant Principal Bernard Geoxavier needed a solution for tracking students needing physical education credits while not playing a sport or taking a class. The Debuggers figured out a solution: students needing the credits can now log time in the weight room with just a swipe of their student IDs when they exit and enter. It was a learning experience for the club members they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. “We learned about readying software for very specific hardware and then deploying it,” said Eli. “Then we had to test it and see if it worked.”
Cybersecurity is a growing issue worldwide, and the club, along with members of the tech team and faculty, are looking at ways to improve their skills and the skills of the school community.
That was the first of many projects. Now the club is working on building a chatbot that will help students with everyday tasks, like navigating schedules, reviewing assignments, and performing other functions they would normally have to log in to the student portal to complete.
The opportunities are multiplying too, for both the benefit of the students and the school. Cybersecurity is a growing issue worldwide, and the club, along with members of the tech team and faculty, are looking at ways to improve their skills and the skills of the school community.
“We are looking at how we can get more kids involved, and how we could eventually compete in events like hackathons as a school,” said Ben Smith ’89, Upper School computer science teacher. “This would help these kids grow in areas where they could have real professional success in the future.”
Of course, the founding members of the Debuggers may have a future in store that no one has yet imagined. “This is a good group of super smart kids,” said Chief Information Officer Patrick Godfrey. “It’s put all of us back on our toes how advanced they are and how they take a project and go after it.”
Added Alan, “These kids are crazy smart and talented. I really am interested in where they go from here.”