Ethan Gaylord, a rising eighth-grade student at St. John Fisher Catholic School in Portland, Ore., works on the design of a prosthetic hand for underprivileged children May 24, which was later produced using the school's 3-D printer technology. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

Catholic schools get creative in how they use, fund technology

PORTLAND, Ore. | When Rosali Patterson picks up the blue, plastic prosthetic hand that she and some fellow students made at St. John Fisher Catholic School in Portland, the rising eighth-grader marvels at what this object will mean for some underprivileged child one day.

“Some kid is going to use this to pick something up,” Patterson said as she gazed at the outstretched fingers of the prosthetic. “This could really change someone’s life. It’s a hand they didn’t have before.”

Patterson and her classmates joined an after-school program at the school last year where they used a 3-D printer to create prosthetics for children whose families cannot afford to provide them with an artificial limb.

The school’s librarian, Sundi Pierce, and principal, Merrit Holub, joined forces with E-NABLE, a global network of volunteers who use their 3-D printers and design skills to create free prosthetic hands for people in need.

The students use a computer program to design the hands and then print out the parts using the school’s 3-D printer, Pierce told Catholic News Service.

Then, the students painstakingly assemble the hands, making them fully functional for someone’s use, Pierce said.

“I guess you could say we are using technology to help provide our students with important lessons in Catholic social teaching,” she said.

State-of-the-art technology has given students tremendous academic tools but it isn’t cheap and Catholic schools have had to be creative in raising money to get their schools up to speed with modern equipment.

Barbara McGraw Edmondson, chief leadership and program officer at the National Catholic Educational Association, said many Catholic schools serving underserved populations can qualify for federal funding for some technology and well-resourced schools can more easily afford it. “It is our middle-class schools that suffer most,” she said, noting that they are “doing creative fundraising” to generate funds.

She noted that technology has revolutionized how classrooms operate. They no longer learn about a country in a textbook, for example, but instead can talk to students in other parts of the world from their classroom.

In order to fund items like Chromebooks, iPads, 3-D printers and fiber optic cables, the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska, implemented a multiyear, archdiocesan capital campaign titled “Ignite the Faith” five years ago.

Established in 2013, the drive has $53 million in pledges, surpassing its $40 million goal, and it continues to distribute funds. More than half of the money raised is going to the archdiocese’s 70 elementary and high schools in grants, teacher scholarships, targeted aid to rural and urban schools, and marketing.

And about $3 million in grants already has gone into technology in schools, said Shannan Brommer, director of the Office of Stewardship and Development.

That has included students using technology in religion class at St. Bernadette School in Bellevue, Nebraska. In one project, students helped the parish’s religious education program fill boxes with gifts for needy children around the world. Then, they watched an online video of children receiving and opening the project’s boxes on Apple TVs and projectors provided by the campaign’s funds.

“It made it a little more real for them to see kids who were far away and didn’t have as much as they do” open gifts that provided things they need and toys they could enjoy, said Lynn Schultz, principal at St. Bernadette.

Even indirectly, the campaign’s funds have helped with technology needs.

Holy Family High School in Lindsay, Nebraska, has a Chromebook for every seventh- through 12th-grader at the school, thanks in part to a new fiber-optic cable that makes it possible to have that many hookups to the internet, said Andy Bishop, principal of the school.

Michael Rockers, superintendent of Hawaii Catholic Schools, said local Catholic schools use technology differently depending on students’ ages.

In elementary schools it is used to “enrich learning, help students master basic skills and provide individualized learning through a diagnostic-prescriptive learning approach.” In high school, technology use is meant to “support academic achievement and the growth in life skills, career skills and skills related to life-long learning”

He also noted that Catholic high schools are educating students on “important issues related to our technology-based society and the call as Christians to exhibit ethical behavior while using their cell phones and other technologies.”

Some schools are also using technology for academic competition.

Third-grade students at St. Elizabeth School in Pittsburgh recently placed 10th worldwide in the World Maths Day competition.

St. Elizabeth principal Linda Bechtol credited the students’ impressive finish with online math testing and a program called “Reflex Math” on Google Chromebook computers at school.

The students are not only learning math skills but also honing these skills in online competitions in school, nationwide or even around the world. For example, the third-graders played against students in Canada, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Australia and the Dominican Republic.

Some Catholic schools use technology to zero in on a specialty subject, like Mater Dei Catholic High School in Chula Vista, California, which has a program called the Mater Dei Academy of Science.

“Science is a big deal here,” said Suzanne Till, director of the program, who said more than a quarter of the student body participates and that “science kids here are treated the same way other schools treat their star athletes.”

When Till was hired in 2012, the program had 30 students. Today, it has 220 and is climbing. Participating students don’t just learn from textbooks and labs but also from projects outside the classroom.

“Students study biomedical science, environmental chemistry, big data science, nanotechnology and other disciplines by working with our partners in San Diego’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) community and experiencing science in action,” Till said.

She said she likes to remind students “they could be the generation that explores Mars, so they need to be physically ready to handle the rigors of space travel.”

Contributing to this report were Joe Ruff in Omaha, Patrick Downes in Honolulu, William Cone in Pittsburgh, Kevin Eckery in San Diego and Carol Zimmermann in Washington.

Follow Muth on Twitter: @chazmaniandevyl

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