Plugged In
Holy Ghost Preparatory School embraces a 21st century approach to helping students learn and thrive
by Daniel Sean Kaye

Today’s students are connected to their world like never before. Their music, entertainment, news and conversations all can be done with a click, touch or swipe. It’s the smart educational facility that embraces this brave new world, and with its amazing commitment to computer advancements and technology over the past few years, Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem is clearly ahead of the pack.

“Kids are reading and understanding the world around them in very different ways,” says Jeff Danilak, the school’s principal. “As teachers, it is important to reach the students ‘where they are’ and speak to them in a language they understand.” In addition, Danilak feels that immediate and constant feedback is integral to good teaching. “Our advances allow teachers to provide this to our students,” he says.

Mike Meistering, the school’s technology coordinator and AP computer science teacher, agrees. “As a premier college preparatory school,” he says, “Holy Ghost Prep must stay current with the ever-present technology advancements and their many uses to properly prepare our graduates to attend any institution of higher learning.”

Big Moves
Holy Ghost Prep has made a bold but necessary commitment to technological advancements. Through an increase in capital funding over the last half-decade, each school year has begun with 50 new computers, enabled with the latest hardware and software capabilities available. This means all are equipped with Intel Core i3 processors, and no workstation is older than three years, according to Michael Jacobs, director of technology.

“Over the last few years, we have expanded and upgraded our wireless network access points and infrastructure backbone, as well as exploding our bandwidth to allow for the increased use of wireless devices on our campus,” says Jacobs. Holy Ghost Prep is also using cloud-based technologies to increase efficiency. “Teachers can input grades online, and students and parents can monitor their progress in classes from any web-enabled device.”

A major initiative is the development of Electronic Holy Ghost Prep (EHGP), according to Meistering. Originally written and developed by Holy Ghost Prep students and technology staff with help from some graduates in the field, this web-based relational database program is used for daily attendance and announcements, as well as computer lab and meeting room scheduling. Developed during the 2010-11 school year and in use beginning in the first semester of the 2011-12 school year, EHGP was expanded to include student and parent login capabilities, primarily for the recording of the student service requirement. Coming this school year will be online parent-teacher conference scheduling.

As much as has already been done, there are developments still to come. “We are investigating different course-management systems [such as Moodle and Blackboard] to find something that will meet our teaching and learning environment,” Danilak says.

The school’s BYOD (bring your own device) policy will expand this year to include virtually the entire campus and most classes. “Through funds raised during our yearly auction, an iPad pilot program was instituted at the end of the last school year,” says Meistering. “Teachers were given access to take a tablet home for the summer and prepare some classroom lessons specifically for a tablet computer. This school-owned classroom set of tablet computers will be shared amongst our most innovative faculty members to expose students to more vehicles for teaching and learning,” he says.

The Benefits
The positive results of taking up this new technology are varied and growing. For example, there is the “green” aspect. “The expansion of our wireless network, bandwidth and our BYOD program, as well as our faculty websites, have all made the dissemination and collection of information more and more paperless,” says Meistering. “Faculty post their syllabi, assignments, study sheets or notes on their websites for student access or download. Many teachers accept electronic copies of student-written assignments as well.”

The hope is to reduce the amount of paper and ink used at the school. Danilak adds that there is also a physical factor: “Publishers oftentimes put as much information as possible in traditional textbooks as a means of competing with other publishers. The end result is heavy books in six different disciplines. Underclassmen oftentimes carry around book bags that weigh over 40 pounds. With e-texts and online materials, the hope is to alleviate this struggle.”

Holy Ghost Prep is using this technology to make things safer, too, through digital signage around campus. This helps to disseminate information to the community faster, so students and their families can be involved sooner. They have six flat-screen digital signs, one large format projector and two movie-theater-sized projectors capable of multimedia presentations.

The Future
All this technology will change things, but Holy Ghost Prep’s awareness of that may be half the battle. “Devices will not be allowed to be used during traditional written tests or whenever the classroom teacher deems it inappropriate to have access to such a device. In all other situations, smart device usage will be encouraged to allow for greater access to information,” says Meistering.

“Time, place and circumstance are removed from the [teaching] equation. The limits of teaching and learning are removed through the use of different technologies,” says Danilak. Of course, there will be obstacles, he admits. “The key is to have good support people [and] to give the teachers time to familiarize themselves with the changes and make it their own.”

Yet despite the amazing changes in the way students learn, the education itself will stay fully Holy Ghost Prep quality.

“The school’s philosophy underscores a liberal arts education, one based on a knowledge and critical evaluation of the past and its lessons for the present,” says Danilak. “Any technological advancements we make must enhance this philosophy.”

Holy Ghost Preparatory School
2429 Bristol Pike
Bensalem, PA 19020
Phone: 215-639-0811