Schools Go Wireless, Offer Faculty and Students Latest Technology

| February 1, 2013
photo of two elementary students with laptops

Digital natives at Notre Dame learn new technology skills as part of the diocese’s technology initiative.

By Caroline K. Reff

St. James Principal George Clancy will never forget the look on the face of one of his kindergartners who won the use of an iPad for the weekend. “He was so excited,” said Clancy. “I can’t tell you how cool he thought he was. I could read his face that he was thrilled that we trusted him to take home the iPad. It made my day!”

The iPad is one of many at St. James School in Johnson City, NY. All core subject teachers have an iPad in the classroom, and Clancy has five in his office – purchased with help from the school’s annual fund – as a reward for those students selected as “Student of the Week.” Each teacher also has his or her own laptop with regularly updated software, and “every corner” of the school now has wireless capabilities.

St. James is just one example of the great strides made in technology over the past two years, as part of a diocesan-wide initiative to prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of 21st century technology, according to Dominick Lisi, director of educational technology for Catholic schools. “Technology is moving in fast forward, and, one-by-one, we are preparing our buildings, faculty and students for that reality,” he said.

Handing iPads and computers over to the students is not the first step, however, as all schools must have the infrastructure and faculty training to utilize the technology effectively. Over the past two years, Lisi has introduced an initiative to make that happen, starting with assessing the viability of each school’s networks with a focus on preparing them
for the future.

“It took some time to do it, but, at this point, all of the schools have wireless capability,” he said. “We have focused our budget and efforts on wireless and technology infrastructure to give our faculty and students the best technology and resources, as well as help support diocesan-wide initiatives like MyStudentsProgress.”

In addition, the initiative aims to give teachers the necessary professional development and training in the use of classroom technologies so that they are best equipped to use these resources effectively in the classroom. “We can’t expect our teachers – most of whom are ‘digital immigrants’ – to teach the ‘digital natives’ if they don’t have ample opportunities to develop their skills in using new technologies, Lisi said. “We have as our goal, and feel it’s our obligation, to make those resources available both on location and online.”

photo of science students with teacher

Students at St. John the Evangelist School combine science and technology.

To that end, the Catholic Schools Office is working with each school in an effort to provide every teacher in the diocese with a laptop and iPad for use in preparing lessons, use of interactive whiteboards and other related classroom technology resources.“Professional development, reliable technology and effective support are key in providing our students and learning communities with the tools necessary to be competitive in the 21st Century,” Lisi said.

In addition, the Catholic Schools Office has introduced a number of technology-driven initiatives for faculty, including the use of Google Apps, the standardization of school websites, the use of technology to allow distance learning opportunities, and the inclusion of a cyber ethics curriculum in every classroom.

“While we have an obligation to offer our students the opportunity to access technology, we also have the obligation to make sure they use it safely and responsibly, so we’ve introduced a new cyber ethics & safety curriculum,” Lisi said. “Today, every student gets lessons in how to stay safe online and use technology appropriately. It’s important and another chance to foster our Catholic identity and values into the classroom.”

Holy Cross School in Dewitt, NY, recently completed the technology initiative. In addition to a total redevelopment of its network infrastructure, the school added 30 computers to its lab at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year. Each classroom and the computer lab were also equipped with an interactive whiteboard. Teachers at Holy Cross came in over the summer to train on the new equipment, including iPads. All were eager to jump right in to using the technology with their students when school opened last September. More recently, the school purchased a set of iPads, including enough to outfit an entire class. While some of this technology was funded through the diocese, other items were made possible through the school’s development efforts.

“Our computer classes have really changed focus this year,” said Holy Cross Principal Mary Conroy. “They are being co-taught by our computer teacher and the grade level teacher to ensure that the technology is integrated into the curriculum instead of the computer skills being taught in isolation.”

“The technology we are now able to offer our students has been a real plus for Holy Cross School,” she added. “We are able to use state-of-the-art technology as a marketing feature for our school, which is especially effective at a time when public schools are cutting these items from their budgets.”

Over the next couple of years, all 22 schools in the diocese will complete the initiative, giving every student and faculty member access to the necessary technology.“Our students and faculty get more and more comfortable with using technology as the months pass by,” said Principal Clancy. “Our kids are educated, entertained and excited to learn new things — especially when it comes to technology. With this kind of upgraded technology, teachers and students are more willing to give something new and different a try. If technology can support or further enlighten how a student relates to an important educational concept, then by all means — let’s jack up the technology!”

Caroline K. Reff is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, NY, and a marketing consultant for the Catholic Schools Office.


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Category: Digital, Featured

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