Gifts Fund Technology and Classroom Innovation
by David Klein | Back to Table of Contents
As technology continues to transform teaching and learning across campus, two Ravenscroft families have given generously to support and advance its use among students of all ages.
“As we educate students in a rapidly changing world, these sorts of gifts are incredibly important,” Sarah Loyola, director of educational technology, said. “These forward-thinking families are helping us prepare our students for careers that may not yet even exist.”
“Like R&D for schools”
Otto Kumbar and Sue Whitehouse established a tradition of technology-focused giving when their children, KATIE ’11 and ALEX ’12, were students here. Their latest gift includes a class set of Mirage Solo virtual reality headsets and funding that enables faculty to explore how to incorporate the technology into their lesson plans.
“We fell in love with the school when we used to get handwritten teacher notes about where our kids were succeeding and where they needed a boost,” Kumbar said. “It made us realize that teachers were the key and giving them better classroom tools can make a world of difference for the kids.”
The gift also helps Ravenscroft continue to lead the way in innovative approaches to curriculum development.
“This is like R&D for schools,” Phil Higginson, associate head of school for philanthropy, said. “The Kumbars’ fund enables teachers to independently study the use of VR technology in the classroom across all subjects and ages.”
Many teachers are ready to jump in. Joel Karpowitz, Upper School English Department chair, has developed VR lessons for his senior Shakespeare elective, including a tour of the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia, a replica of one of the Bard’s legendary venues.
“Through VR, students get a sense of what that space was like for an actor in Shakespeare’s time. It’s very different from our stage today,” he said. “Being able to experience it more directly will help students understand why we think of Shakespeare as such a giant in the world of theater.”
Explore the world of Shakespeare in this simulated VR tour of the Blackfriars Playhouse replica in Virginia.
“An accessible and engaging pathway”
A gift from Michael and Amelia Warner, parents of EMME ’23 and ELLE ’25, also aims to sustain Ravenscroft’s commitment to innovation through technology.
“We are excited that Ravenscroft continues to lead the state of North Carolina with both the number and quality of our technology offerings, and we want to do more,” Amelia Warner said. “Technology is continuing to evolve rapidly, and the more advanced our students’ understanding of how to apply advanced technology is will improve their competitive advantage for college, graduate school and the business world.”
The Warners’ gift provides ongoing funding for computers, computer-assisted design software and other high-tech items. The Warner Room, the larger of the two computer science classrooms in the Keim Center for Innovation and Research, will serve as a dedicated space for students to explore cutting-edge computer technology.
These funds were recently used to purchase a Sphero Bolt Power Pack featuring 15 programmable robots, which, as Upper School computer science teacher Anna Lawrence said, “create an accessible and engaging pathway to explore computer science that spans all grade levels.
“The technology has an app that is supported across multiple platforms, is project driven, and can be adjusted to meet students at their current level of mastery,” she added. “In Computer Science Principles this past spring, we explored algorithms and infrared sensors by creating a synchronized dance with a team of two to three Spheros.”
Such exploration helps students hone their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for success today.
“The world is becoming better at an increasing rate, and it’s becoming more complex at the same time,” concluded Kumbar, a self-proclaimed futurist who has made presentations on the topic to Ravenscroft’s Innovation Task Force. “Innovating in education may be the best investment anyone can make today.”
Participants in Anna Lawrence’s summer camp session “Keep It Secret, Keep It Safe: Coding and Cryptography” — including counselors Edward Purrington ’20 and Ethan Browne ’22 and campers Chris Speranza ’25 and Payton Earwood ’25 — use Sphero robots to play soccer.
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Sarah Loyola, director of educational technology, works with Upper School English teacher Joel Karpowitz on use of the Mirage Solo virtual reality headsets.
VR Units in English Electives Transport Seniors Through Space and Time
One of the most exciting things about virtual reality technology is how many ways there are to use it. For several Upper School English teachers, the Mirage Solo headsets create a new way to transport students to the worlds of the stories they read.
“I’m really intrigued by the possibilities of using VR in my senior Shakespeare elective,” Joel Karpowitz said. “This technology lets students immerse themselves in the world of the theater and in the play itself. For example, in an experimental staging of “Hamlet” called “Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit,” students experience the story through the eyes of the ghost of Hamlet’s father. With the action of the story unfolding around them, they get a much deeper appreciation for the play.”
As Karpowitz’s students explore Shakespeare’s works and the theater of the past, seniors in Colby Bogie’s science fiction elective will use the VR headsets to think about what the future may hold.
“Science fiction literature and film often explore contemporary political and cultural anxieties,” Bogie said. “In the past, my students and I have discussed artificial intelligence, social media and economic automation. We’ll use the VR experience as a catalyst for our classroom discussions about how quickly technology is changing, and how, in turn, these technological developments will change us, our economy and our culture.
“Seniors always appreciate this opportunity to look beyond the classroom in order to think about how the material we’re learning will affect the world and the workforce that they’re preparing to enter,” he added.
The technology may also provide inspiration for students’ own work. Karpowitz has developed a unit for his class on film adaptation in which students explore a short VR film, experience or game and determine how they’d adapt it to a different medium, such as a comic book, short story or poem.
“Storytellers have always embraced new technologies as a way to connect with people. Virtual reality is one more new tool, but it has the potential to transform the way we communicate our experiences and feelings to each other,” Karpowitz said. “It’s exciting for us as a school to be exploring that transformation while the technology is still in its infancy.”
Witness the events of “Hamlet” as his father’s ghost in this experimental adaptation that simulates the VR environment.