'Everything is right here:' Parochial high schools put computers in the hands of students

News-DemocratNovember 2, 2013 

Biology teacher Karen Asbury at Gibault Catholic High School, Waterloo, Illinois, and math teacher Julie Klazynski at Freeburg High School, Freeburg, Illinois, use technology in their classrooms every day. Asbury says technology allows her to be a helper for her students rather than a lecturer.

JAMIE FORSYTHE/BND

There won't be any snow days this winter at Gibault Catholic High School in Waterloo.

Principal Russ Hart said the school's one-to-one technology initiative -- where every student has a computer to use for schoolwork -- will allow Gibault to not have any snow days.

"We will never have to take a day off due to snow," Hart said. "Teachers will have virtual lessons."

Students and teachers will not physically come to school but will be required to log-on to their computer and do school work for at least 5 1/2 hours, as required by state law.

One advantage to not having any snow days, Hart said, is that parents, students and teachers already know the last day of school.

"The driving reason was the planning and preparing of our students for the future," he said. "For our students, it's really preparing them for when they go to college. We are asking our students to take the responsibility to do this work at home and get everything in."

Like Gibault, parochial high schools throughout the metro-east have one-to-one computer initiatives. They include Father McGivney Catholic High in Maryville, Metro-East Lutheran High in Edwardsville and Althoff Catholic High in Belleville. Some of the private high schools require students to pay for their own computer while others provide them.

Althoff is phasing in it's one-to-one computer plan. This year, students were encouraged to buy Apple iPads, but are required to have them until next school year.

Technology coordinator Pam Schumacher said 80 percent of Althoff students have iPads this year -- 322 out of 400 students. "It's much higher than I anticipated," she said.

Althoff is using online textbooks, which can be loaded onto students' iPads. "Parents are saving on average about $300 (a year) by purchasing books online versus print textbooks," Schumacher said.

Like Althoff, Metro-East Lutheran phased in iPads for its students. This year marks the school's second year as a one-to-one campus, according to information technology director Michele Brown. She said students can buy the iPads, rent them or lease-to-own.

Unlike other schools, Gibault doesn't require its 261 students to have a specific device. Director of enrollment Patricia Herzing said students are allowed to bring whatever device they are "comfortable with" for their schoolwork, with the exception of a smart-phone. They are required to have a computer of some kind whether it is a laptop, netbook or tablet.

Gibault didn't buy online textbooks for students. Instead, teachers developed their own books using free online resources, Herzing said.

Hart, the Gibault principal, said not having snow days also should save money for the school. He said the school will have one less day of heating and cooling expenses, one less day to pay employees to prepare lunch and clean the school, and one less day of transporting students. "All of them added together could be a significant savings," Hart said.

Father McGivney provides laptop computers downloaded with electronic textbooks for its students, according to Principal Mike Scholz. He said the laptops and software cost between $700 to $800. The students can keep their laptops when they graduate.

"Our pledge to our students is we will be on the cutting edge of technology, always," Scholz said.

How do students use technology?

On a recent day in Megan Pearson's English class at Althoff, juniors used the iPads for their college research project. They researched their two top college choices via the Internet and then created a presentation using an application called Prezi.

"We use it all the time," Pearson said, adding students are "more involved" in class. "There is more they can do."

Freshmen and sophomores in Abby Thomas' honors world history class at Althoff also used the iPads for research. They learned more about Alexander the Great, took notes in an application called Evernote and made a presentation in Prezi.

Freshman Donovan McKnight, 13, of O'Fallon, said using the iPads is "pretty cool. It's more manageable than looking through a boring old book," he said.

At Father McGivney, Spanish teacher Brooke Larkin had her students take a quiz online using their school-issued laptops. The students then participated in listening activities via their online textbook on their laptops to review vocabulary.

Larkin displayed images of the students' new vocabulary words on a large television screen hanging in the front of the classroom, and the class reviewed the Spanish words associated with a house. The students practiced writing the words using small dry-erase boards that Larkin handed out to each student. She showed an image on the screen, and students had to write the Spanish word for it.

Larkin praised the laptops at Father McGivney. "It's great. It makes things a lot more efficient," she said. "The technology has been a lot of fun. Students are so adept to it."

Father McGivney biology teacher Jennifer Guidry is also a fan of the technology. "Kids are so technologically advanced today," she said. "They definitely know how to use it, and they have everything at their fingertips."

At Gibault, students in Karen Asbury's biology class conducted hands-on experiments and reviewed materials she posted online -- which included notes, videos and PowerPoint presentations -- to figure out the answers to questions she provided to them electronically. The students were asked to send answers electronically as well.

"It's really enhanced my teaching process," Asbury said. "Kids have all kinds of resources at their fingertips that they normally wouldn't have. It's taken me from being a lecturer to me being just a helper -- somebody that can show them what to look for, and they can figure it out on their own."

Gibault Spanish teacher Roxy Jenkins said technology allows students to learn more than they typically would. "It lets us get deeper into learning about Spanish culture and not just the language," she said.

What do students think?

Gibault sophomore Jessica Wittenauer, 16, of Waterloo, said she likes not having to take "so many books home.

"I really like it," she said. "I think it's a lot better."

Teachers and students at Gibault have access to a learning management system that connects students and teachers via an online environment called My Big Campus. Many college campuses have a similar system.

Gibault senior Sam Schrader, 16, of Smithton, said he finds My Big Campus to be "pretty useful. It makes school a lot more flexible," he said.

Senior Jessica Altadonna, 17, of Waterloo, likes being able to contact her teachers at Gibault easily. "It makes the teachers more accessible," she said.

Father McGivney students enjoy using their laptops. "I really like being able to look up information quickly," said sophomore Danielle Villhard, 15, of Glen Carbon. "I really like the online textbooks. I never want to go back to regular textbooks."

Freshman Michaela Wilke, 14, of Collinsville, said using laptops was the norm for her, as she was home-schooled prior to coming to Father McGivney. "I enjoy it, because I was home-schooled. We always used laptops," she said. "It was a lot easier for me to come to a school with laptops."

Althoff junior Jeffrey Murphy, 16, of Belleville said teachers are able to cover more material using the iPads. "We get through material a lot more quickly," he said. "We can cover a lot more of the book in a semester."

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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