A $4.75 million grant to benefit Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Phoenix will not only enhance digital learning, but help propel them through the 21st century.

For the first time, the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust has awarded monies to support and expand technology in the six diocesan-area Catholic high schools: Bourgade Catholic High School, Brophy College Preparatory, Notre Dame Preparatory High School, St. Mary’s Catholic High School, Seton Catholic Preparatory and Xavier College Preparatory.

“It’s really our relationship with the diocese and the superintendent that allows the trust to think about where to invest and help schools as a whole,” said Marilee Dal Pra, Piper Trust’s vice president of programs. “These very dedicated and committed people work hard to ensure students receive the best education they can get.”

Although each high school is in various stages of use, Dal Pra said consultants began identifying the needs to arrive at a common platform.

“From there, individual needs of the schools were identified,” she said. “Kids need to experience all the richness in education. No one anticipated how fast technology would grow in the classrooms.”

The proliferation of social media and technology has changed the way students learn, challenging educators to rethink approaches to teaching.

The traditional way is edging toward the exception rather than the norm. In this digital age, tools like handheld tablets expand schools’ capability to give each student a personalized learning experience.

MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent of Catholic schools, said the grant allows them to “enhance the learning that our students are already doing” and brings the schools to minimum standards.

The goal for the infrastructure upgrades is five years.

“This has given us an ‘ah ha’ moment to do more,” Mueller said, adding some of the high schools are using design teams to move technology forward.

Classroom technology could one day be available in every school.

“We’re getting more power and more resources and better equipment for less money,” said Jim Bopp, assistant principal for technology and instruction at Brophy.

For example, when the Jesuit school made the transition from laptops to using an iPads it was a noticeable savings, which all 1,300 students have and use.

However, digital learning is not limited to computers, iPads and smartphones. It also refers to how students access information from online learning sites, applications or programs.

Beginning last year, students attending Seton were allowed to bring their personal devices to school. In addition to having access to electronic textbooks and notes, students could meet their teachers in a virtual environment when they weren’t physically on campus.

“This grant is most important because it allows us the opportunity to provide our campus with enough bandwidth to accommodate stable wireless accessibility for up to six devices per user,” said Seton Principal Patricia Collins.

“This kind of thinking on behalf of the diocesan schools office is putting Seton and the other Catholic high schools in good standing going into the future.”

Local Catholic high schools, and others around the nation, continue to emphasize the promise that technology-based student learning holds for improving student achievement.

Bopp agrees that being a 1:1 computing school increases learning opportunities, but more importantly it allows teachers and students to focus more on problem solving, creative and critical thinking and fluency in artistic presentation than on memorization.

“As teachers we don’t want them to just absorb, digest and regurgitate information. We give them challenges to demonstrate and prove by using resources at their disposal. That’s the world they are going to walk in to,” Bopp said.

“Students appreciate and need to be able to read, watch, listen and interact with the learning tools they have. It’s their reality.”

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