At the Forefront
Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart embraces the Making Movement and latest technology as learning tools while helping boys develop balance and digital citizenship
by Phil Gianficaro

Amid a national conversation of technology addiction and what constitutes healthy screen time for children, Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart emphasizes digital citizenship and the balance for boys’ lives today.

When you meet a Princeton Academy student he looks you in the eye and shakes your hand. He conveys a palpable sincerity and is eager to think of others before himself. Student life at the Academy is joyful, with meaningful friendships and an enduring brotherhood that transcends age and grade level.

“We’re developing creative, compassionate and courageous leaders of a just society,” says Headmaster Rik Dugan. “Learning and character development are on all of our minds. Our Sacred Heart goals are lenses that when combined with the tools to inspire lifelong learning, provide us with the ability to bring out the best in the boys.”

Among those tools is technology, an integral part of the Princeton Academy curriculum in helping boys realize their true potential, both as students and as upstanding young men. The school views technology as a tool and, therefore, a means of enabling students “to produce rather than to consume and, in doing so, make the world a better place,” according to Dugan. Integrated technology in all subjects unlocks creativity and passion that is channeled and used to enhance learning. “It’s more than just technology for technology’s sake.”

For example, Princeton Academy has embraced the Maker Movement, where students, both individually and collectively, assemble and recreate “products” out of unused, discarded or broken raw materials. As described by Head of Lower School Paris McLean, “Princeton Academy has taken the Maker Movement a step further by having a Making class in the school’s designated MakerSpace room as part of the curriculum in kindergarten through fourth grade.” McLean adds, “Within an intentional scope and sequence of the Maker curriculum, there is no prescribed outcome.”

It is important to highlight that students have Making class in addition to, not in lieu of, art and music.

“The boys are learning teamwork, collaboration, how to execute a plan and rebound when things go awry,” McLean says. “They are learning to be respectful of themselves and mindful of the power of the tools. They’re learning to share space and resources.”

Further technology resources in the Lower School include Chromebook carts, iPad carts, Mimeo interactive boards and 3-D printers.

Making allows boys to utilize technology in the form of 3-D printing and other vehicles, combined with artistry and repurposed materials. The MakerSpace at Princeton Academy is a safe space for students to take appropriate risks and think, imagine and create in a way that allows them to succeed and learn from failure.

“Outcomes and assessments matter in certain moments to gauge learning and mastery, but Making transcends that; there’s no right or wrong, just doing,” Dugan emphasizes. “We put a lot of emphasis on the doing, which enables our boys to grow as students and young men. We understand that success comes from failure.”

On any given day at Princeton Academy’s Middle School, one would see character building and student innovation connected to the use of technology in a way that promotes digital citizenship and a healthy balance. The goal at Princeton Academy is to provide boys with the opportunity to explore, hone and see creativity in a different light. Whether through the 1:1 device program in Middle School or the use of the school’s Tech Discovery Lab, students are provided with all of the necessary tools they need to meet their passions and help engage them.

The fifth graders have Chromebooks that they are familiar with from classroom use in fourth grade, which provides students with technological continuity as they navigate the new world of Middle School responsibilities. Students in grades six through eight are provided with iPad Mini 2s (with keyboards), which is an intentional device progression, chosen for its mobile-friendly size, high-resolution retina display and limitless software options. The faculty leverages the unmatched breadth and power of the iOS App Store to enliven their classrooms and engage the boys.

Director of Technology Ray Shay recalls a recent Social Studies class he visited: “The boys were learning the intricacies of the Electoral College through iCivics’ Win the White House app. They had to make strategic decisions and problem solve as they campaigned against a fictitious candidate. The electoral process came alive for the boys.”

Princeton Academy is also finding ways to engage students beyond the classroom.

“We have a student who built his own drone as part of the Middle School’s signature, inquiry-based Independent Science Project, built his own 3-D printer and has his own business repairing devices for his neighbors and friends,” explains Shay. “He is just one example of the individual student interest and passion we want to support and further develop.”

Princeton Academy is creating new co-curricular programs to engage courageous, compassionate and creative boys.

“We are building upon our strong technology infrastructure and creating myriad opportunities,” says Shay. “Whether a student is interested in programming and robotics, hardware repair and networking or digital design and 3-D printing, we have an outlet for them.”

Uniquely at Princeton Academy the curriculum and philosophy is tied to the Society of the Sacred Heart, which educates children to become leaders of a just society by adhering to five universal goals. Thus, character building and compassion are at the heart of the school’s mission. It is a part of the every day and makes otherwise aspirational goals a reality.

“Boys are proud to be gentleman scholars and they think of others before themselves,” says Dugan. “It really goes beyond teaching digital citizenship and managing screen time to empowering boys to be their best selves. In today’s culture of distraction, we believe it is essential for our boys to look up and be truly present as they develop as individuals and active members of their communities.”

Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart
1128 Great Road
Princeton, NJ 08540

Photograph by Alison Dunlap