Though Arizona’s Empire High School is one of the first public schools in the U.S. to swap textbooks for laptop computers, it’s not the only school to do so.

At St. James Academy, a new Catholic high school that started classes August 18 in the Kansas City suburb of Lenexa, Kan., students will use laptop computers, leased from the school, for everything from note-taking to checking their test scores.

Textbooks? So 20th century. The curriculum will be only a few keystrokes away.

Catholic educators on both sides of the state line say the pilot program at St. James–chosen for its small size–could provide a blueprint for the future of parochial schools.

The school, which opened its doors with 122 freshmen, will add one freshman class each year, graduating its first senior class in 2009. The laptops will be leased for four years, with the cost covered under the school’s tuition.

“Are we going to prepare kids for their future, or our past?” said Sister Patricia Clune, associate superintendent in the diocesan school office for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. “If we aren’t using technology, we aren’t preparing them for the future.”

For Catholic students, that also means lessons on combining the possibilities presented by technology with traditional church values.

Parents will have access to students’ assignments and grades, Principal Barbara Burgoon said. Some web sites will be blocked, and all eMail sent from the laptops will be monitored.

“I challenge you to make Christ-centered choices,” Burgoon told students on the first day of school.

Burgoon, a former language arts teacher, said she believes computers change the way students learn. Her students wrote differently when they composed their papers directly on computer, she said, than when they wrote them on paper and then typed them in.

The laptops include features targeting several learning styles. For example, students will be allowed to take practice tests or watch video clips. Faculty members will watch to see whether students are more effective taking notes on their keyboards, recording teachers’ lectures, or using prepared class notes.

“We have to reinvent the way we teach,” Spanish-language instructor Robert Ludwikoski said.

The students, meanwhile, seem comfortable with the computers.

“It’s really fun,” said Krista Zuroske, 14. “It’s one of the reasons I came here.”

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Links:

St. James Academy
http://www.stjamesacad.org