Arabian knight turns IT wizard
KENT PLEDGER, a computer consultant from California, has been named the top educational supporter in Scotland for his work as an ICT technician at Mid Calder Primary near Livingston.
Earlier this month, he picked up the accolade at the Scottish Education Awards in Glasgow, flanked by the school's head and a group of pupils.
But his employment came about through the strangest of coincidences - he knew the school's head, Alan Girdwood, through a mutual love of breeding and showing Arabian horses and had moved to Scotland just when the school was undergoing a major refurbishment and IT refit.
Mr Pledger used to work as a civilian IT manager with the US Army's defence language institute, but moved to Scotland to concentrate on his horse interests. When Mr Girdwood came across his friend by chance ("The Arabian horse world is very small," says Mr Pledger), he suggested the IT specialist was just the man to help with his school's IT needs.
"When the school was being refurbished, we took the bull by the horns and decided to go completely into IT," explained the head.
The school was wired up for computers and interactive whiteboards, while blackboards were thrown out. This was four or five years ago, when whiteboards were less common in primary schools.
"I knew the teaching staff would melt down if I didn't get a lot of support initially," Mr Girdwood said. "I bumped into Kent working in a petrol station and knew he was absolutely right for supporting the staff because his background was in IT.
"He held the staff's hands and supported them all the way through, and basically it was just very, very successful.
"The children became ICT literate very quickly, and the staff became much more confident."
But Mr Pledger's role changed as it became clear he had lots of innovative ideas for enterprise and was also very artistic.
"I got hooked because of the kids," he said. "I started out just managing the IT, but that grew into working with educational resources, providing software and doing more training. It just grew arms and legs."
He then took over as enterprise co-ordinator and has been encouraging the pupils to do more technology in school. He started a young engineers' club and runs the digital camera club as well.
After three years at Mid Calder, however, Mr Pledger has no hankering to train as a teacher.
"I'm happy with the position I'm in. I get to do what I like doing and use my skills," he said. "And, because the management is open to innovation, they allow me to come to them with all my crazy, whacky ideas and, if it's possible, we carry them out. It's the best of all worlds."
Mr Girdwood cites "Calendar Kids" as an example of Mr Pledger's flair. This was an enterprise activity that raised pound;7,000 for the school and involved pupils taking photographs, selling advertising and marketing to local businesses, and doing curricular work around a monthly theme - with pupils dressing up one day a month to illustrate the calendar.
Mr Pledger also forged links with Careers Scotland and Dundee University to inspire the pupils' interest in electronics, digital photography and engineering.
Another of Mr Pledger's innovations was to ensure that all classes in the school had robotics kits. Under his leadership, pupils held a robotics and K'Nex construction challenge event at the school, with the winner selected to go on to the national finals.
"He's just so full of ideas, enthusiasm and skills," Mr Girdwood said. "His artistic and ICT skills have made an enormous impact on the school."
The head hopes he will never lose Mr Pledger. Every year, he has managed to find the money in his devolved budget to fund the IT whizz's temporary contract, but he fears he might not always be able to do so.
And, yes, Mr Pledger still finds time to breed horses.