Bring Your Own Device
Holy Ghost Preparatory School utilizes one-to-one technology as a tool to foster lifelong learning
by Lindsey Getz

Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem was founded in 1897 as a preparatory and junior collegiate seminary for young men who were studying to become members of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit. Since then, the school has come a long way, while still honoring its roots.

Although it offers an education of traditional values, Holy Ghost Prep stays on the cutting edge of the technology in a way that is intelligently integrated into the classroom. The introduction of the “bring your own device” plan—or BYOD—is perhaps the latest example of how the school is using technology as an effective educational tool that will also assist in preparing students for life outside the classroom.

As part of the BYOD plan, which the school launched with the Class of 2018 (this year’s freshman class), students will be required to bring a personal computing device to school. Students will use their own computers or tablets in the classroom; they will no longer be required to purchase textbooks, which will be provided through the school.

“We decided on BYOD because we know that teaching, and learning, is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Jeff Danilak, the school’s principal. “Technology plays an integral role in education but is not the end game.”

Danilak says that technology is best used in schools when it is able to assist in, rather than guide, the learning process. If not integrated thoughtfully, however, technology can actually be an impediment.

“In our research we found that teachers are sometimes limited in the classroom when the school mandates a specific device,” Danilak explains. “Instead we tried to focus on cloud-based applications and software, giving teachers the flexibility to use technology in a way that serves teaching and learning. If we mandated a specific device, we would have to spend hours on professional development and student education just on the basic features of the device and how it works. But with a BYOD policy, students and teachers can start the year working on a device with which they are already familiar.”

“It’s very important that students are comfortable with the device they’re working with,” adds Mike Jacobs, the school’s director of IT. “They’re going to be most efficient with a device they already know. We also didn’t want to force families to buy something they didn’t really want. With this policy, students can use a device that they like. Some students prefer a tablet while others like a laptop.”

Creating Opportunities
This program enables families to decide exactly how much they want to invest in a device for their child. In addition, with this policy, the school doesn’t need to charge a “technology fee,” as other private schools have done, or build extra money into tuition for device fees.

In general, Holy Ghost Prep aims to utilize technology in the classroom as much as possible. The faculty knows that technology is undoubtedly going to be a part of the students’ future, as technology is already revolutionizing the workplace. Of course, doing so has also meant having to educate the faculty as well.

“Teachers play such an important part in this effort so we’ve been doing a lot of professional development,” Jacobs says. “It would make no sense if we had students bring in their devices and then the teachers just had the kids put them away. So we’ve done a lot of work with faculty to ensure that they’re utilizing those devices in the classroom. We’ve invested in a lot of software to help make the integration into the classroom go smoothly.”

“Time, place and circumstance used to be fixed and ridged variables in the learning process,” Danilak says. “Now they no longer dictate when and how things are done. Over the summer, State Representative Scott Petri was a guest speaker for one of our summer government classes. One of our students was visiting a college in Western PA and unable to physically join the class. So we used a teacher’s laptop and did a Google Hangout—a program similar to Skype—and he was able to listen and ask questions with all of the other students.

“In this situation,” he continues, “place and circumstance did not dictate the learning. Instead, the technology gave him an opportunity to interact and learn directly from our State Representative—truly a unique experience!”

As another example of how Holy Ghost Prep is embracing technology for the classroom, the school year kicked off with an in-service lecture about low-stakes writing and technology with Scott Warnock, Ph.D., an associate professor of English with Drexel University. The lecture focused on how technology can enable students to develop critical-thinking skills, as well as how educators can connect with students in a language both groups understand.

Enhanced Learning
Holy Ghost Prep faculty members are now able to spend more time educating students on how to implement technology in a way that will help students succeed. In this case, success can be defined as not only helping them learn critical-thinking skills but also having them learn appropriate, responsible behavior as it relates to a technology that has the potential to be used recklessly.

“Technology can be used to find answers, to communicate with teachers and to truly enhance learning,” Jacobs says. “But we know that it can also be misused. Sometimes that piece of the puzzle is lost in translation. It’s forgotten that we also need to be teaching teens what’s appropriate when it comes to technology use, and that includes everything about where to look for information—what is a credible website—to what is OK and not OK to post and share online. Those are also important skills that can’t get brushed under the rug when you’re putting technology in the hands of teenage boys.”

All in all, the BYOD plan will help enhance the teaching opportunities that already exist at Holy Ghost Prep. Danilak says that the school is well aware that technology moves quickly and requires diligence to “keep up.” Yet he also points out that this is not just a “game about trying to stay on top of the latest trends.” This, he assures, is truly about learning.

“Teaching and learning are paramount goals in the direction of the school—not technology,” Danilak says. “Technology only helps meet those goals. Our school’s mission focuses on the moral, intellectual and spiritual development of young men. These are our pursuits.”  

Holy Ghost Preparatory School
2429 Bristol Pike
Bensalem, PA 19020

Photograph by Catalano Studio