Bloomberg, Tech Go-To Guy

Taken from the Devils Advocate, article by Jake Berzoff-Cohen.

All students at the Northampton High School are familiar with their lessons being interrupted, occasionally, because of technological woes. Announcements like “Excuse me first period teachers, Starbase is down, so please write down your attendance by hand,” are probably familiar. What the younger students in the high school might not be familiar with, however, is the announcement that used to follow like a dog on a leash: “Ben Bloomberg, please report to the office.”

Senior Ben Bloomberg, who is approaching the end of his tenure at Hamp High this year, has long been the high school’s student technology expert. Over the last three years Bloomberg has been almost solely responsible for the wave of new technology in the theater department. He has been the technological handyman, the Mr. Fix-it of computer problems, and the leader of a separate species of high school student, the techie.

Bloomberg’s parents, Brenda Philips and David Bloomberg, explained how their son’s interest for technology began burgeoning before he was even out of diapers. “He broke our CD player when he was about two,” explained Philips, “but he had figured out how to operate it. He had figured out that the little forward triangle meant play, and things like that.”

By the time he was a fourth grader in Jackson Street Elementary School, Bloomberg was already being pulled out of class to help with technology. “They installed a new sound system, and Ben helped them order it,” said Philips. “And he was the only one who could work it, so they’d pull him out of class…Then even when he went to JFK there were times when they would call him back (to Jackson Street) to help work the sound system.”

By the time Bloomberg arrived at the high school, there was already a class set up specifically for him where he would be working one-on-one with Northampton High School Computer Technician Eric Gagne. “The only way for me to get paid when I was a freshman was to work after school,” said Ben. “(The techies) would get paid $10 per hour for out of school functions, like events that happened in the theater.” Ben also earned a salary when he worked with the technology department after school. They paid him $5.25 per hour.

As Ben’s technological expertise increased, so did the amount of work he was doing for the high school. During the first semester of Bloomberg’s sophomore year, he was taking only one academic class, World History with Kate Todhunter. “I only had one real class, and the rest of the day I was doing stuff for the school. First period I had AP Computer Science, which was basically self-taught. Second period I was designing the sound system in the Little Theater, and third period was history,” he said. “Fourth period I was with Eric Gagne, designing the school Web site.”

When Bloomberg was a sophomore he would frequently be called out of his academic classes to help other teachers when they had computer troubles. “I’ll admit, my work did suffer, but it’s this kind of stuff that makes me unique and is getting me into college,” he said. “The amount of education that I’ve missed out on in class is about one- fiftieth of the education I’ve gotten doing computer stuff. There were times when I’d feel myself forgetting about schoolwork and just doing sound for like 12 hours a day. But I’d realize it, and I’d talk to Dr. Singer about it, and we’d figure something out to make my schedule work.”

Todhunter, who taught Bloomberg first semester of his sophomore year, appreciated the amount of work he did for the school, but felt that the demand for his time was “hard on him.”

“It was unbelievable. I would get calls in the middle of class for him to go do stuff. Then he’d come back half an hour later, sometimes with a note, sometimes not…And when the musical came it was crazy. He’d be working 12 or 14 hour days,” said Todhunter. “I could probably be doing better in my classes if I didn’t do this, but I feel that this is more valuable in the long run,” Bloomberg added.

Principal Beth Singer agreed that during his sophomore year it wasn’t always fair to Bloomberg. “I think he was abused and overused until his junior year,” said Singer. “Ben has trouble saying no, because he enjoys what he is doing so much. (The administration) asked people to stop demanding him.”

The change in the usage policy of Ben Bloomberg is noticeable. He no longer is called out of class, and Bloomberg has shifted his focus from computer technology to theater tech. “I don’t really get called out of class anymore. Dr. Singer rebelled against the demands, and my teachers began to fight back,” said Bloomberg.

Over the course of Ben’s high school career he has advanced the Northampton theater department to a place where few high schools in the state have gone, and no high schools in the area are. “Tech-wise we are miles ahead of any other public school in the area, the stuff we do here is unique,” he said.

“He’s also cost the school a good deal of money because he finds the things we need. It’s hard to say no to him because he knows so much about what would make the school better,” said Singer. Bloomberg estimated the amount of money that he has spent over his four-year period with the high school at close to $15,000.

Anyone who has worked with Bloomberg has had nothing but praise for him. “Ben does an incredible amount of work for the school,” said Beth Dichter, the Technology Integration Specialist. “He’s not being paid what he should charge us…to pay somebody else to do that would cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. People with Ben’s abilities could be working for places like Sony earning $200 per hour.”

Dr. Singer described Ben as being “kind and sweet and brilliant. He is uniquely talented…kids used to grow up wanting to be the president or a fireman. Now kids grow up who want to be Ben Bloomberg,” said Singer.