Mission Grammar School in Roxbury, Mass., wins Innovations in Catholic Education Award
By Victoria R. LaFave
The 2019 winner in the technology integration category of the Innovations in Catholic Education Awards is Our Lady of Perpetual Help Mission Grammar School, a Catholic college-prep school in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Kate Moore, representing award sponsor Follett, presented the honor at the April 24 awards event during the NCEA Conference in Chicago.
“We were honored to be chosen as the winner in our category,” Principal Aliece Dutson said. “We strive to prepare our scholars for an ever-changing technological world, and we are humbled and grateful that our project was recognized to showcase innovation for scholar success.”
The students at Mission Grammar School, who are referred to as scholars, benefit from a strong culture of achievement surrounded by positive messaging and opportunity. “This culture lifts up [the] existing brilliance of scholars and helps them to know and see the endless opportunities that are possible,” Dutson said. “Mission Grammar’s goal is that all graduates gain admission into a Catholic high school by working closely on personal goals and growth.”
Mission Grammar School has created an iPad initiative to integrate the use of technology, specifically iPads, into all subjects of study as a method of developing technology literacy.
Dutson described the objective of the program: “The goal of the iPad initiative is to prepare our scholars for real-world applications through the use of technology. Mission Grammar School wants students to have [a] seamless integration of technology into their learning environment. Integrating digital tools helps scholars grasp and demonstrate their understanding of educational concepts at higher levels, through visual and auditory reinforcement.”
According to Dutson, Mission Grammar School is proud to educate many students who do not have regular access to technology and the internet at home. As a result, for some students, the opportunities to use iPads and computers at Mission Grammar are their only chances to gain important computer skills.
As part of the iPad initiative, teachers design lessons to activate critical thinking and support digital citizenship utilizing iPads.
For instance, the youngest scholars interact with iPads in small groups. This helps to foster group learning and sharing. They also have the opportunity to use the iPads one-on-one, giving scholars freedom to explore all the different educational applications on the devices. Scholars in first through sixth grades also have the chance to use the iPads individually during lessons in a variety of subjects. Scholars learn electronic presentation skills using tools like iMovie and PowerPoint, where they can create their own content.
In sixth-grade religion classes, students can use iMovie to create presentations to illustrate Catholic social teachings. Students use apps to improve their language and communication skills, as well.
“Some of our scholars come from non-English-speaking households, so applications like FaceTime provide students with the opportunity to develop and practice language,” Dutson said.
iPads are also used to aid scholars in math courses with educational applications like CueThink, a math and problem-solving program that helps students work through each problem step by step and share their process with classmates. Scholars also watch educational videos from sources such as Khan Academy, allowing them to review subjects or learn new concepts. All the applications used on the iPads foster technological literacy, including essential web navigation, digital camera use, programming, and typing skills.
“Technology literacy is an essential part of any contemporary educational curriculum,” Dutson explained. “The iPad initiative is an important part of our overarching motto that ‘our scholars are living the Gospel, on the road to college!’ One of our goals focuses on technology integration; if scholars learn to use technology effectively during their elementary-school education, they will have a strong technological background to build upon as they enter into high school and eventually college. Now that the iPad initiative has been implemented, we are creating even more opportunities for scholar growth with technology. To prepare our scholars for middle school and high school, we have expanded to using both iPads and Chromebooks to teach grades four through six with Google Classroom. The early implementation of the iPad initiative was the springboard for their current academic success.”
Learn more about Our Lady of Perpetual Help Mission Grammar School: MissionGrammar.org
Follett also presented awards to the two finalists for the Innovative Project in Technology Integration category at the April 24 awards event. All Saints Catholic School in Davenport, Iowa, was honored for its Zspace Virtual Reality Learning Lab. Visitation Academy in Paramus, New Jersey, won recognition for its Markerspace Program.
Zspace is a state-of-the-art learning technology that presents instruction with hands-on ability to manipulate learning in a virtual reality environment. All Saints Catholic School, which serves a very diverse student population, is currently the only Catholic elementary school in the state of Iowa to have a Zspace Learning Laboratory.
Principal Jeanne Von Feldt said the entire school’s student body shares in her enthusiasm at being named a finalist in the Technology Integration category: “We were just overjoyed and very proud to have received this honor,” she said. “In fact, at our end-of-the-year honors assembly, the whole school was thrilled when we showed the trophy and unrolled the [finalist] banner, and the entire student body erupted into applause and gave a standing ovation.”
Even future students and parents are excited for the school. “When I give tours to prospective parents and students, they are very impressed by this award,” she commented.
A grant opportunity allowed All Saints Catholic School to receive a $65,000 award from the Scott County Regional Authority to fund the Zspace Virtual Reality Lab with 10 virtual reality stations.
“This grant allowed All Saints Catholic School the ability to level the learning opportunities for our students in competition with more prosperous economic areas,” Von Feldt explained. “In fact, the Zspace Learning Lab is allowing our students learning opportunities to succeed with this technology that is not available to other public or private schools in our area at this time,” Von Feldt noted.
Students are being inspired by the variety of subjects they are learning about while using the Zspace Virtual Reality Learning Lab.
“Our students had not been previously exposed to virtual reality technology, so when they wear their virtual reality glasses, it’s neat to see them be able to reach out and almost touch the item, whether they are seeing a butterfly fly or doing a dissection. [They] can feel the heart pumping in their hand while they are holding the computer mouse.”
Von Feldt said that one of her students even worked on fixing a car using the virtual reality system, learning the mechanics of automobiles. “It was beginning training for him, and he now plans to go into automobile mechanics for his career,” she said. “We are extremely proud of the Zspace Learning Laboratory and the opportunities it is giving our students at All Saints Catholic School.”
Learn more about All Saints Catholic School: ASCSDav.org
The second finalist, Visitation Academy (VA) in Paramus, New Jersey, a Blue-Ribbon School of Excellence, successfully integrates cutting-edge technology and a makerspace into its curriculum, providing students with opportunities for collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity.
Last year, Principal Kimberly Harrigan and Donna Monticello, VA’s technology coordinator, attended a makerspace workshop, focusing on the benefits of implementing makerspaces in schools to provide students additional opportunities for hands-on STEM activities.
After learning all they could about makerspaces, Harrigan and Monticello, along with the art teacher and assistant Alexandra Mc Allister, transformed the school library into a collaborative workspace, allowing students the opportunity to make, learn, explore, share ideas, and develop creative projects.
Visitation Academy’s makerspace contains a variety of materials, including hand tools, sewing machines, cardboard, tape, craft sticks, LEGO, K’nex, and more, as well as many technologies, including iPads and Chromebooks, for programming and controlling devices through various apps, robotics, LEDs, and circuit components.
“We introduced our makerspace to the school community in September 2018, and it was very well received,” Harrigan told TCT.
“Faculty members in early childhood through eighth grade and their students visit the makerspace bimonthly, working on STEM challenges and activities relevant to the teachers’ curriculum areas.”
While in the makerspace, the students work collaboratively in small groups, using a variety of technology and materials to complete STEM design challenges. In completing such challenges, students are using the engineering design process to investigate, design, create, and evaluate. This affords students opportunities to utilize hands-on critical thinking skills, as each team member has a chance to act as designer, builder, quality control engineer, and product tester while completing the challenges.
In order to use technology and the makerspace effectively, professional development opportunities for the faculty are provided so they are well-equipped to utilize new technologies in their curriculum.
According to Harrigan, faculty and students at VA have embraced the makerspace movement. “These challenges are preparing our students for technological and collaborative challenges they will face in their futures. Being chosen as a finalist in the technology category of the Innovation in Catholic Education Awards affirmed that our makerspace and advances in technology at our school are beneficial to our students,” she said. “It was a great honor to be recognized, and to be able to show educators what we could achieve through a collaborative effort in Catholic education!”
Learn more about Visitation Academy: VisitationAcademyParamus.org
Applications for the 2020 Innovations in Catholic Education Awards are open through November 15, 2019.
Victoria R. LaFave writes for Today’s Catholic Teacher and for Holy Name Catholic School and the Bishop Noa Home, both in Escanaba, Michigan. Several of her stories have been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul books.
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