Texas Catholic Herald News

August 7, 2012

HOUSTON – Michael Ladd knows a thing or two about technology. 

The 17-year-old high school student is among a young generation dubbed "screenagers" because they have been reared on television and computers. They often find themselves gazing at screens, such as iPads, cell phones and computer games, and it is safe to say that more technological advancement is on the horizon for them to view.

To prepare even their youngest students for this fast-paced, evolving world of technology, many schools in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston are taking steps to equip themselves with the latest, most updated computer laptops, tablets, desktops and software on the market.

Ladd, a senior at St. Thomas High School in Houston, knows this is a move in the right direction. He helped to "test out" the 790 new personal computer tablets recently purchased by his high school for students and faculty.

By integrating these devices into classrooms, "It will provide each classroom with more interesting, diverse and hands on learning materials," Ladd said.
"I hope to one day work in the field of meteorology where everything is computer integrated, so it is imperative that I become familiar with technology and use it in everyday life as much as I can now," he added. "It will only make my life easier in college if I do so."

Nationally, Catholic high schools have a 99 percent graduation rate and 97 percent of those graduates go on to college. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston oversees the largest private school system in Texas. More than 18,000 students are educated in the Archdiocese’s 59 Catholic schools, which includes 44 diocesan grade schools, six private elementary schools and nine private high schools.

“Most school districts are realizing that the whole world has become very computer literate and for our kids to do well on the next level, our schools have to make sure we address that,” said Michael’s mom, Nancy Ladd. “St. Thomas High School is definitely on the cutting edge of this process.”

With these new Asus tablets, students can write papers, take tests and access the Internet, among other things. Since the tablets are mobile, students aren't tied to their desks, said Nick Tammaro, Director of Communications for St. Thomas.

Students are not allowed to take the tablets home. The school was able to buy them for the 2012-2013 school year by increasing the yearly tuition by $850 per student, Tammaro. 

"The Asus tablet is relatively new and more modern and we can create classroom specific applications," Tammaro said. "The iPad can download applications, but we are going to design a tablet application for our students and that will become part of our regular curriculum."

He admits that times have changed.

“I graduated from here 10 years ago and it was pretty much blackboards and chalk,” Tammaro said. “The number of computers available since I was a student here has tripled.”

The same advantage is happening at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School in Galena Park. There is a new computer lab with 25 Hewlett-Packard laptops, a new server, Acellus software and wireless service throughout the school, said Principal Marsha Masi.

Also new this year is the Mimio by Dymo, a tool that mounts magnetically onto any dry erase board and converts it into an interactive whiteboard with software that is downloadable. The tool can be moved from classroom to classroom.

"Imagine a classroom of four-year-olds and trying to teach them the concept of what is living and what is not living," Masi said. "The teacher can use the Mimio to pull up photos and design lessons and then the students can go up to the board and actually circle and manipulate the photos."

Our Lady of Fatima paid for the new technology with Federal Title Funds, a matching grant and donations. The school plans to budget and spend about $5,000 each year in order to continue to upgrade their technology.

“We are committed to preparing our students to live in a global society in a way that allows them to ethically and morally utilize technological skills to achieve academically,” Masi said. “We are not only using technology, we are teaching them to use it wisely.”

With all of its glory, new technology in classrooms can pose a few challenges. School officials said making sure students utilize these tools properly is a big concern, but that has been corrected through the installation of safeguards.

For example, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School in The Woodlands bought a computer lab monitoring system, said Becki Kinch, the school's Advancement Coordinator. The system lets a teacher see every child's laptop screen on her desktop computer.

"When you are talking about the Internet, there are precautions you need to take and this monitoring system can help kids stay accountable for what they are doing," Kinch said.

St. Anthony School uses technology to supplement the school's core curriculum of math, science, history, religion and other subjects. They have access to interactive whiteboards and hand-held chalkboards, two mobile iPad labs on carts and a technology center, among other things. A grant recently paid for the new computers.

Programs and applications at St. Anthony include Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Publisher, Access, KidPix, Inspiration 8 and Web Workshop Pro. Students as young as age 3 are introduced to the technology.

Five of the Inner City Catholic Schools that are cooperating in a new initiative called the Catholic Schools Cooperative got new computers as well, said Enrique Benitez, Catholic Schools Cooperatives Director.

Between grant money and donors, these five schools have been able to receive 150 iMacs and 150 iPads, which are being divided among mobile carts and technology labs at each school. The cooperative includes Resurrection, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Peter the Apostle, St. Pius V and St. Augustine Catholic Schools.

"These are Inner City schools, but we are giving our students an opportunity to experience what technology is out there," Benitez said. "We are giving them access to things they didn't have before."

Besides, it is just more fun to play with computers with touch screens and interactive items to move around, he said.

"We want to be very careful and make sure our curriculum is being followed and remember that technology is basically a tool we are using," Benitez said. "But this tool is changing their ways of learning and making it more interactive, so they will hopefully develop a thirst for going back to the classroom."