Schools look ahead to new, improved tech, academic programs

Thomas Makin of Rumson and Julian Mattioli of Colts Neck use a school laptop to work on their Math Counts contest entries in Holy Cross School, Rumson. The club again earned Gold Level status last year. Photo courtesy of Holy Cross School

Story by Rose O’Connor | Trenton Monitor Correspondent

For educators, there are few things more exciting than a new school year. While June is a time for the celebration of academic achievements, September is time for new beginnings and new academic programs and curricula.

As in years past, elementary and high schools in the Diocese continue to strengthen and improve their academic and programs and offer new technological advancements to meet the learning needs of all students.

Joseph W. Whalen, a new integrated language arts and religion teacher in Our Lady of Good Counsel Elementary School, Moorestown, plans to incorporate his knowledge of technology into the classroom to engage students. Whalen worked for several years as a camera operator, live replay operator and audio/video technician for the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers.

“One of the avenues we are pursuing this year is an online behavior management program called Classcraft.

The program is similar to the popular video game World of Warcraft and has students developing characters and obtaining new items,” he said. “Students’ progress through the game using points that are rewarded or depleted based on classroom behavior. A student who volunteers to help another student solve a question might gain extra points, while a classmate who is disruptive would lose points. Students are grouped together in teams and the game promotes a form of camaraderie in order to achieve the best equipment.”

“Technology is everywhere in today’s world, and it’s important that schools stay on top of the latest trends in order to prepare students for life outside the classroom,” he added.

Many of the Catholic high schools in the Diocese have partnered with local colleges and universities to provide even more educational opportunities for their students.

Margaret Kane, assistant principal of academic affairs in St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, said the school is excited to introduce a new academic program, the SJV Advanced Placement Academy.

“The SJV AP Academy provides students the opportunity to receive the maximum amount of college credits they can while in high school by taking Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses during their four years at SJV,” she said.

The school currently offers 14 college board-approved AP courses and numerous dual enrollment courses. Students enrolled in the AP Academy can choose a liberal arts or science/ math track. AP Academy students can graduate with up to 39 college credits, she said.

Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, also continues to build upon its academic program Advanced Placement courses.

Judy Rynkewicz, director of communications at the school, said its curriculum includes 15 AP courses and more than 25 honors classes. These programs and honors courses span all departments, offering a variety of subjects designed to provide a rigorous academic experience to all students, she said. Courses are rooted in the basics, yet incorporate progressive teaching strategies.

“All Notre Dame students are encouraged to challenge themselves academically,” she said. “Students are supported through instructional approaches, which help address variedlearning styles.

Rynkewicz added that the school has partnered with a number of colleges and universities that enable its students to earn college credit while completing their high school requirements.

“This paradigm gives our students an academic and financial edge when applying to colleges and universities,” she said.

Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton, also provides students the opportunity to earn college credits while in high school with its dual enrollment program.

This year, 16 qualified students will participate in the Mercer County Community College Cohort, an academic program that partners with the school’s English department to provide the opportunity for high school seniors to take Freshman English 101. The program will be expanded during the 2018-19 school year and will include mathematics and the social sciences.

The pre-K through 12 regional school is also expanding its STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum Project Lead the Way to include PLTW Launch for students in grades K through 5. The curriculum is described as one that will allow “hands-on activities in computer science, engineering and biomedical science. They become creative, collaborative problem-solvers ready to take on any challenge.”

In TCA’s Upper School PLTW, principles of computer science will also be offered to students who qualify. As described in the course description, the class aims to “develop computational thinking, to generate excitement about the field of computing and to introduce computational tools that foster creativity. The course also aims to build students’ awareness of the tremendous demand for computer specialists and for professionals in all fields who have computational skills.”

St. John Vianney High School will also implement PLTW this year and offer Honors Engineering I, an introduction to Engineering Design; Honors Engineering II, which includes studying mechanisms, the strength of structures and materials; and Honors Engineering III, which focuses on civil engineering and architecture.

Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, is another school that will enhance its technological and STEM offerings.

Courses such as Robotics II, Principals of Engineering and Coding have been added to the school’s academic program and a bi-weekly “enrichment period” will allow students to participate in a range of co-curricular activities, including a robotics team.

St. Benedict School, Holmdel, is eager to begin the new school year with its new state-of-the-art science lab, which was built over the summer months and will be ready to host both hands-on and virtual laboratory experiences for their students this September.

The elementary school will also introduce a new series that will enhance the lab experience through a set of modules that will include topics in the biological, physical and environmental sciences.

In addition, this winter, the school will host the second annual “Hour of Code,” in which students in grades K through 8 experience the world of coding by participating in an international coding experience. Last year, they created their own computer games and animations in a single hour.

Priding itself on technology, Holy Cross School, Rumson, has acquired an additional 75 Chromebooks for grades 3 and 4 and has replaced its gymatorium projectors with two new laser projectors. The school is equipped with 5G wireless throughout the building, Windows 10 computers for every middle school student, wireless color laser printers for staff and student use, SMART Boards in most classrooms, a 3D printer for student projects, and an Oculus Rift virtual reality center to enhance learning in the middle school science lab.

Teachers from St. Rose School, Belmar, participated in a special training over the summer as part of a new partnership the school formed with the New Jersey Institute of Technology to build a STEM program and STEM lab.

When students return to school in the fall, they will walk into a building where all of the classrooms will have undergone remodeling, and there will be a new STEM lab added to the second floor.

“This fall, SRGS moves to a projectbased STEM/Makerspace program for students,” said Principal Gregory Guito, noting that the hands-on activities will help reinforce the students’ skills in STEM subjects.

The young women in Villa Victoria Academy, Ewing, will return to renovations in their building and greater wireless capability. The technology is necessary to complement new rigorous additions to their academic program, including the new requirement of the students taking math all four years of high school.

In St. Paul School, Burlington, STEM lessons and STREAM lessons (which incorporate religion and art) will be available for students in grades 5 through 8 during the day and in afterschool programs.

While schools further strengthen their STEM and technology programs, much attention has also been paid on the diocesan level to the development of curriculum in early childhood development.

Eileen Baglivio, kindergarten teacher in St. Peter School, Point Pleasant Beach, who has served on the diocesan Early Childhood Committee for more than 10 years, said the guidelines present strategies to accomplish affective development of the early childhood student.

“Teaching practices focus on religious, emotional, social and developmental skills,” she said. “This will be a very useful tool for all teachers.”

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