Editor/Writer, Our Kids Media
If you were to ask most people who they feel is the face of Microsoft, they’d say Bill Gates. But ask Sham Subram, Director of Technology at Aurora Montessori School, and he’ll say Sarah Hemeon. “She’s my go to.” Hemeon is a Territory Business Sales Excellence Manager with Microsoft Canada and is based in Toronto. “Whenever we have a warranty claim,” says Subram, “or if someone’s lost a charger. Or if someone’s dog has chewed through the charger. Believe it or not, that happened. Issues like that, she’s there to help.”
The partnership between Microsoft and Aurora Montessori began, predictably, with the onset of the pandemic in 2020. Being a Montessori school, technology wasn’t at the forefront of their program delivery. “We had a computer lab,” says Subram, “but there were no one-to-one devices.” With the pandemic came the need for students to get online, from home, something they hadn’t even considered prior.
“It was June and we needed to get ready for the September roll out, and this was uncharted territory for us.”
So, they reached out to Microsoft and met Sarah. “From there on it was a very expedient issue,” he says, chuckling a bit. It’s funny now, but it wasn’t then. “It was June and we needed to get ready for the September roll out, and this was uncharted territory for us.” The first task was to find the right set of tools. “The Surface Go was kind of like Goldilocks,” he says. “It had the form factor that we were looking for, the touch screen. It was able to run Word, Excel in the full versions, not the online versions.” They were also able to broker volume pricing based on the school’s needs at the moment, while also looking ahead to service, replacements, and growth. “We’ve also had discussions of when to upgrade the devices and what that would look like. They said that, when that time comes, we can reach and they’ve got some suggestions on who to proceed with on that.”
The partnership was able to address little things, too. Most recently, they had a set of Surface Go 2 devices that were being kept as spares. When the Surface Go 3 devices became available, Sarah suggested that they do an exchange, picking up the old and dropping off the newer models. And the charger that the dog ate? They got that, plus four more to have on hand should any other pets get an appetite for tech. “Sarah is really good at responding very quickly,” says Subram. Invoices get sent directly to our accountant. “It’s a seamless process.”
“We’re constantly exploring how we can utilize these tablets with our curriculum and with our values.”
Through the pandemic, teachers at Aurora Montessori were looking to new best practices around tech, new ways of interacting with students in authentic, meaningful ways. The school had been using Office 365, so there was familiarity there, and Subram wanted to build off of that. He also wanted to not be limited to online apps. “It’s been great that they have an education team that can understand the nuances that go along with providing devices for children.”
At the beginning, the school was using Zoom. With the older kids, though, Subram started using Teams, partly as a pilot project, but also in the knowledge that it integrated well with Office 365. “It worked better for us in terms of creating classes that only individuals in that class could access. After our pilot session with the Grade 7s and 8s, they were able to provide us with training on Teams and Word and Outlook for the teachers that required it.” Teachers have extended that knowledge, bringing the internet into their lesson plans. Students don’t need to wait to go into the lab to do the research. They can work from home. “We’re constantly exploring how we can utilize these tablets with our curriculum and with our values.”
“They’re very down to earth, you can just approach them.”
More than anything, Subram has simply liked having someone he’s able to call, someone who understands the school. “There were issues where we weren’t able to get devices in on time, the ones that we wanted for September, so they were able to provide us with loaner devices until we were able to receive our full shipment. They supplied support along the way. It was just a pleasure to work with them.”
Subram is the first to admit that, for a large, international corporation, the experience that he has had with Microsoft has been remarkably personal in ways that he didn’t expect. “I guess the phrase I would use is that they’re very down to earth, you can just approach them. I don’t feel like I’m talking to Microsoft, I feel like I’m talking to a person.” And he is. Sarah. She’s in Toronto. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the students at Aurora Montessori have been working together, learning online, because of her.
For a detailed case study from Microsoft outlining their partnership with Aurora Montessori, see: customers.microsoft.com/en-us/story/1379502150037197549-aurora-montessori-edu-surface-canada