The IT Academy 2013-2014 Webinar Series got off to an exciting start in September, with “Training with Technology: Using technology within the classroom to engage and motivate students.” Among our featured speakers was Peter Sigmund, CIO of La Salle College High School in Pennsylvania. Peter shared how the school is using Surface devices to improve student performance. We got the sense there was more to his story—and in it, an inspiration for other teachers. So we followed up with some more questions. Here are his answers.

The Technology program at La Salle College High School has been recognized as a model for Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) Certification. What’s unique about your program?

At La Salle, we aim to be one of the most successful Microsoft IT Academies by combining our high certification rate in advanced MTA server and development certifications with our unique Lab Manager program. Our students receive hands-on experiential learning by working as a team, side-by-side with our network administrator and CIO, running a 1,600+ user network. For example, our entire email move to Office 365 was entirely student-run.

Currently, we are working with Data Protection Manager 2012 to back up all of our systems to the Microsoft Azure Cloud. To provide redundancy for our Office 365 deployment, the Lab Managers and I are discussing moving some of our critical servers as well.

How many students achieve MTA certification each year?

Over 100.

Your program offers a strong focus on experiential learning. What aspects are in place to support this objective?

The Lab Manager Program at La Salle is one-of-a-kind in combining the official IT Academy Server classes with real-life experiential learning. This hands-on approach makes La Salle one of the most innovative schools in the country and perhaps the world. The program is based on the principles of a sports team, but applied to the world of technology. Through it, the students themselves help run the school network by solving everyday technology issues and fixing critical technical problems.

The administration was initially hesitant about giving students full permissions to the network, but [we] assured them that by placing [the students] in a real-world scenario, they could utilize their talents fully and gain real experience in running a 1,600 user network. To this day, the Lab Manager Program remains one of La Salle’s proudest student programs.

How has the Lab Manager Program prepared students for successful careers?

Our IT Academy classes and Lab Manager Program are focused on preparing students to enter IT leadership classes at major universities. We see our students making a difference in the IT world as experienced members and strong leaders. Although they may believe otherwise, we warn our students about the temptation of entering the industry right after high school, and the so-called “glass ceiling” that they will face without a college degree. On a positive note, colleges and universities are incredibly impressed with our unique program, and many a lab manager has been recruited by high-level universities for technology.

Educators are always looking for ways to present curricula in an engaging, immersive way. What tools and technologies have you implemented to provide students with the highest quality experience?

When it comes to the Lab Manager program, there’s nothing like real-world experience, and our lab managers work with the latest in cutting-edge technology. Once again, we have been invited to work with Microsoft to deploy and validate Windows Server vNext prior to the public beta release of the product. La Salle is the only academic institution participating in the Windows Server vNext Microsoft Technology Adoption Program (TAP), joining a place among some of the largest companies and government agencies around the world.

Looking forward, tell us where you and your school want to take the Surface RT program. How do you and your school plan on growing the program?

Interesting changes are already in effect at La Salle College High School. Our Surface RT deployment program has been so successful this year that we are already considering issuing devices to the class of 2018. With the students using laptops and Surface tablets more often during the school day and in class, we have begun to rethink the conventional computer lab design.

In the coming years, we hope to retire many of our existing computer labs and use them solely for our high-level server classes, which require the use of virtual machines for training. Our faculty also remains up-to-date on the newest technology, as we will continue to train them to use Windows 8.1 and integrate student devices in the classroom.

The La Salle student of the future will be mobile and informed by having constant access to the resources of the Internet. By relying more on easily portable electronic textbooks, we will reduce the need for heavy book bags, and through the use of OneNote and the cloud, students will have access to all their notes on-the-go without having to carry around bulky notebooks. It’s an exciting time to be at La Salle College High School!

IT Academy member institutions are sometimes limited by resources or budget to grow technology programs as rapidly as they’d like. What are a few ways that a school can rapidly and economically implement programs that improve the teaching of 21st century skills?

[At La Salle], while the students gain great experience in running an advanced network, the administration is able to maximize efficiency while minimizing cost. In this way, a two-person adult IT staff can function like a 30 person team.

Peter R. Sigmund, MCSE ‘85 is the Chief Information Officer for La Salle College High School which is located just outside of Philadelphia. Peter has been at La Salle 22 years and, prior to becoming the Chief Information Officer, he was the head rowing coach for the La Salle Rowing Program. He has been certified in Microsoft networking technologies since 1999. Currently Peter serves as the “head coach” of the Student Lab Manager Program that has been featured as one of the top innovative school programs in the country by the Microsoft Partners in Learning Network. Peter is the professor of IT Academy classes for the Microsoft Technical Associate and Microsoft Certified Professional courses.

Braden Bonner, MCP ’07, who helped answer these questions, is the Network and Website Administrator for La Salle College High School. Braden is an alumnus of the Student Lab Manager Program and, since he returned to La Salle in 2011, has been a key figure in teaching networking technology to the student team. Braden works side by side with Peter Sigmund as an “assistant coach” to the Student Lab Manager Team, and provides core technical teaching on the production La Salle IT Network.

Did you miss the September webinar? Sign up and view it on demand now.