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St. Monica receives one-on-one Chromebooks for senior school students

The addition is part of the Catholic school’s greater initiative to adopt digital education.

Sixth-grade teacher Kristen Kapczynski guides her students through an online math course. The senior school of St. Monica Roman Catholic School recently received 275 Chromebooks, allowing one device per child for students in third to eighth grade. The addition is part of the Catholic school’s greater initiative to adopt digital education — a goal established by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

Lifting the tops of sleek gray laptops, seventh-grade students of St. Monica Roman Catholic School were presented with a digital poll surrounding the concept of missions as they sat down for theology class on a recent Thursday morning.

Asking, “What does the word ‘mission’ mean to you?” and “Which mission would you choose to accept?” the students had a few minutes to answer the questions using Google Forms, a constituent of the Google Classroom digital platform.

When the timer went off, the responses automatically appeared as a colorful pie chart on a smart board hanging in front of the classroom. After discussing their reports, teacher Joseph Valerino, who crafted the opening activity, segued into a lesson on the missions of Jesus Christ.

“Religion, sometimes it can be very subjective,” he explained. “And with Google polls, you can ask opinionated questions, maybe, as an introduction to get the class going.”

This polling exercise, and essentially, the alternative approach to the gospel, was made possible through the school’s recent delivery of new Google Chromebooks, as for the first time, every student in St. Monica’s senior school, encompassing grades three to eight, have their own laptops.

Previously, one cart holding 30 computers was shared between two classes per grade. But through support from the Rev. Joseph Kelley and recent community fundraising, government monies and various grants received this year, the school, which is overseen by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, now maintains about 275 Chromebooks, allowing one device per child, which was a technology goal established by the Archdiocese a couple of years ago.

“I think some people think that the Catholic schools are still with our rulers and doing the old-fashioned education,” said principal Regina Matulka. “But I think they need to know that the Archdiocese, as well as the pastor and all of the community, are 100 percent supportive of us staying on top of education, current education and the trends.”

An accredited school with the Middle States Association, St. Monica’s is establishing multi-year goals to transform the South Philly Catholic institution into a innovative education center, preparing its students to become “global digital citizens.”

While the Chromebooks open up several avenues of evolving curriculums, their new presence helps further the use of other technologies the school already uses, such as its work as a “Google School.” The application of Google Docs, Sheets, Slides and Forms fosters a streamlined and paperless workflow. Each student and staff member also received their own secure Gmail addresses, as if an inappropriate message is sent via email, Matulka will be notified.

(GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

The Chromebooks also increase the effectiveness of educational software like First in Math and IXL Learning, which St. Monica’s has also purchased.

“It’s really helping them expand their education and their sense of learning, because as they get older, technology is just going to become more and more advanced,” said sixth-grade teacher Kristen Kapczynski. “And to start at this young of an age, it’s really going to help them in the future.”

However, while standard subjects, such as math and ELA, or English Language Arts, are undoubtedly translated onto such digital forums, St. Monica staff say theology is just as easily converted and has even modernized how students prepare for sacraments.

Matulka says most of the school’s religious textbooks are accessible digitally, and both teachers and students especially favor a website, Christourlife.com, which, at the conclusion of a unit, uses a Jeopardy-style game called “Stump the Shepherd” to prepare for exams.

“It makes work more exciting, because we’re doing it on the computer,” said sixth-grader Nadia Coppola. “And before we had these, we were so used to writing things down and then turning it in, so now, that we have the computers, it’s more fun to do it.”

“I like technology more. I don’t like writing. I like typing better, so I can do (work) way faster,” said sixth-grader Steven Smyth. “It makes life easier, because instead of bringing all the books every day, we can just do it way faster.”

Students say since they’re already on their digital devices for entertainment purposes, so having access to schoolwork by simply scrolling through apps on their phones and tablets makes the learning process a bit more bearable.

Aside from easily communicating with teachers and fellow students, the children have access to online notes and resources from the day’s classes in light of absences.

(GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

The laptops not only improve approaches to certain curriculum, but concurrently cultivate a sense of scholastic independence in the students as they prepare for higher education and eventually 21st-century careers.

“I don’t know what I would do without (the Chromebooks) honestly, because they offer so many different visual tools,” Valerino said. “Especially with kids, they need visual tools to be able to learn. Just reading black and white letters on paper, it’s not going to fly as much anymore. They need to be able to see visuals in color. The world’s becoming more technological, so we’re getting them prepared for the future.”

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