Technology upgrades enhance students’ learning experience

Kindergartners in Mary Lentino’s class used their index fingers to write the word "mud" on their iPad screens during a recent phonics lesson at St. Bernadette School in Bellevue.

Once finished, they electronically sent their work to their teacher’s laptop, and it appeared on the large projector screen in front of the classroom.

Lentino said the iPads, Chrome books, projectors and other new classroom technology – provided by grant funds from the Archdiocese of Omaha’s Ignite the Faith capital campaign – allows her to easily access, assess and keep track of each student’s work and capabilities, and provides her with a guide when making lesson plans.

"The technology in my classroom is great because it helps me to actively engage the students," she said. "It acts as an enhancement to my lessons and allows me to quickly assess student learning to determine what concepts have been grasped or what I may need to review."

For more than a year now, schools have been able to tap into $2.6 million from Ignite the Faith for upgrades in technology or infrastructure, said Patrick Slattery, superintendent of Catholic schools.

Thirty of the archdiocese’s 70 elementary and high schools will have received upgrades in technology or infrastructure by mid-spring 2017.

"This emphasis on improving technology availability and access in our buildings allows educators access to more resources to support the full mission of our schools," Slattery said. "Provided technology is used correctly, it can be a valuable instrument in building up communities of faith, knowledge, and service."

Shawn Baas, director of information technology for the archdiocese, said his office helps coordinate the planning, installation and configuration of infrastructure-related upgrades. The goal, he said, is to put a reliable network infrastructure in the schools based on their Ignite the Faith grant requests.

That includes providing quality content filtering and Internet security, upgrading wireless systems, and installing new projectors, screens and both wireless and wired connectivity to classrooms, Baas said. In some schools, grant funds also provided Chrome books and Apple devices and mobile carts for the students themselves, he said.

"We’re making sure that over the next five years the schools should be good to go with where they’re looking to utilize the wireless technology," Baas said. "We’re really trying to facilitate that vision where the teacher can be working on her laptop or iPad, put it up on the screen, switch over to watching a video, jump back possibly even to another student’s device to show different things … making it a truly cohesive solution and standardizing it from room to room."

St. Bonaventure School in Columbus updated wiring throughout its building, installed a new wireless access point and network switches and put Apple TVs and Chrome books in all classrooms. "Because we are able to handle more devices in our classrooms, teachers can differentiate their instruction to better meet the academic needs of the students," said Cheryl Zoucha, principal.

For example, students excelling in math work on online programs at their own pace so they can continue to move ahead, she said. Other students also are given options for skill practice using online programs, she said.

Lynn Schultz, principal at St. Bernadette, said the new technology has enhanced the way teachers can educate students in all subjects, including religion.

In November, St. Bernadette students helped the parish’s religious education program fill boxes with gifts for needy children around the world. In upcoming religion classes, students will watch on new Apple TVs and projectors an online video of those children receiving and opening the boxes, Schultz said. That will likely lead to more discussion about the works of mercy, service and the wider church, she said.

"We are grateful for the technology upgrades because it allows us many more avenues to reach kids, and to teach kids, and to make learning fun for them," Schultz said. "We use it all day, every day, and we are hopeful that it will continue."

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