Catholic high schools to provide laptops to students, teachers this fall
Latest technology to aid 'critical thinking' skills
CHARLOTTE — The Mecklenburg Area Catholic Schools System is launching a new initiative in learning this fall at both Charlotte Catholic and Christ the King high schools. For the first time, all students and teachers at both high schools will be using laptop computers – part of a growing trend towards electronically-centered classrooms.
In this "Technology Infusion" or "1:1" initiative, 1,650 Apple MacBook Pro laptops will be distributed to the two high schools when classes begin Aug. 22. The project will cost MACS approximately $2.2 million over three years, and its aim is to boost students' critical thinking skills, involvement and creativity in the classroom, school district officials say.
The "Technology Infusion" project has been in the planning stages for the past two years, and it follows from the success of a similar, smaller launch at both high schools last year.
Students in social studies and math classes at Charlotte Catholic High started using laptops in the classroom last year, and Christ the King High began offering laptops to 38 students and teachers with great success when it opened last fall in its temporary Mooresville location.
Dr. Dan Dolan, Christ the King High's principal, said he saw tangible results from incorporating this technology into the classroom last year, including evening office hours online, so teachers were available when students needed help; inviting guest speakers to webinars from their locations, enabling students to meet with university professors and authors no matter the distance; and the start of a relationship with a Catholic school in Canada. Yet, Dolan also emphasized, computers are tools for learning which open new doors and opportunities for learning, not a replacement for good teachers.
"Computers allow greater access – to faculty, to experts in a given field, and to other cultures," he said. "We want our students to be able to access data, make sense of it, evaluate it and meaningfully apply it to new situations."
"We need our students to be critical thinkers – and computers can be a valuable tool in that quest," Dolan said.
Now that emphasis on aiding critical thinking skills using the latest technology is being launched campus-wide at both schools.
Charlotte Catholic High will get more than 1,530 laptop computers, and Christ the King High will get more than 80 laptop computers. The laptops will be leased.
Scott Long, director of information technology for the diocese, is spearheading the technology side of the project. Long said he is working in conjunction with four companies to see it to completion: Smoothwall, Cisco, Presidio and Technocom. Each company will play a pivotal part in executing the new technology plan being implemented at the high schools, he said, adding that this will prompt a huge technology leap forward for the schools.
At Charlotte Catholic High in particular, the project includes more than just new laptops: The school's computer network is being upgraded, with wireless capability added to each classroom and the common areas, along with a stronger Internet security firewall and content filter.
An on-site computer helpdesk will also be set up at Charlotte Catholic High to respond to questions, repair issues and other needs from students and teachers.
"We are replacing all the networking electronics at the school right now," Long said. "This is scheduled to be completed by June 28."
The immediate goal is to set up the new system to handle the increased number of users and provide a reliable, safe Internet service for teachers and students, he noted.
Strategically, MACS officials say, the "Technology Infusion" initiative could lead to "paperless" classrooms for teachers and students, as well as savings on textbook costs for parents.
Janice Ritter, interim diocesan schools superintendent, said she sees the "Technology Infusion" project as a way to "greater student involvement in their education" and an outlet for "greater creativity."
"The project involves a significant financial commitment from MACS as well as parents, and a commitment of time, talent and training on the part of teachers and school administrators. However, school officials are confident that this investment will help us meet our goal of enhancing students' critical thinking skills as well as their involvement and creativity in the classroom," Ritter said.
A tuition surcharge of $260 for high school students has been instituted for the 2012-'13 school year to help cover the project's varied costs.
Teachers in the MACS system have already been training and working with laptops over the past year to help integrate their use in the classroom.
Information about the project and the technology enhancement fee has already been shared with parents, noted Mike Ford, MACS marketing director.
Parents and students will also have the opportunity to attend informational meetings in August about the use of the new technology at the high schools.
—SueAnn Howell, staff writer
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