A College-Preparatory, Catholic Education that Goes Beyond the Tablet

Join Kennedy Catholic for Open Houses on Oct. 20 and 23.


Kennedy combines Blackboard, eBooks, iPads for complete learning system

Editor’s Note: To learn more about Blackboard, iPads, Google Apps for Education and Kennedy’s new learning management system, you can make an appointment or stop by the school for one of its two Open Houses on Sunday, Oct. 20, from 1 – 4 p.m., or Wednesday, Oct. 23, from 7 – 9 p.m. 

While Apple aficionados salivated last month with the release of new iPhone models 5s and 5c, not to mention the forthcoming release of iOS7, the students at Kennedy Catholic in Somers whet their academic appetites for a an entirely new learning experience—one that goes beyond the mere introduction of tablet technology.

At the Somers-based, Catholic high school, the curriculum of the future has arrived in the form of iPad 4s, the Blackboard learning management system and Google Apps for Education, not to mention an extensive electronic library.  It’s an educational triple threat unlike anywhere else in Westchester, Kennedy Catholic President the Rev. Mark Vaillancourt said, and one he knows will best prepare students for college and the Web 2.0 workforce they will be entering.

“It’s far more powerful on an educational level than anything that’s been done before,” Father Vaillancourt said.  “As educators, we know that learning is a lifelong process.  To that end, our new learning management system challenges the brick and mortar boundaries of the classroom to truly enter the lives of our students.”

It begins with Blackboard, used extensively at the college level, which creates a real-time, virtual environment where classroom participation gives way to real-time interaction.  Picture a classroom where the teacher walks in and, instead of asking students to take out their textbooks and turn to a predetermined page, or even passing around a handout, asks them to sign into Blackboard and open the file, watch the video or begin the activity that has been posted.  And because Kennedy offers a closed and secure network, a teacher can even remotely control a classroom full of iPads to guide students through more complex lessons.

“As someone who has been ahead of the technology curve for years, Blackboard harnesses all the additional skills—photography, Web and graphic design—I bring to the classroom,” said Spanish teacher and Webmaster Jacob Bergmeier.  “It allows me to challenge my students in new ways, and challenges me to discover new ways to make the Spanish language and culture come alive for them.”

That Blackboard experience is delivered to students at Kennedy exclusively via the latest generation iPad 4s, provided to freshmen and junior classes this year on 24-month lease from Apple.  Kennedy will outfit the remainder of the building by fall 2014, including incoming freshmen.  Kennedy teachers have been utilizing iPads as an online and interactive instructional tool since the summer of 2012.

The key at Kennedy is the uniformity of its learning system, as students have been given the same model iPad 4s, which have been ordered, customized and controlled by the school.  This keeps students on task and focused, allowing them to access only approved content such as Apps and eBooks.  The result is an online educational environment where learning doesn’t stop at the sound of a bell, as students are connected to their teachers and classmates virtually, asking questions, responding to posts, submitting assignments and engaging in peer review.

“Students can manipulate pictures, maps and charts right on their screens, visually enhancing their learning experience,” said Michael Kealy, a 2002 alumnus who returned to his alma mater last fall and has been working closely with administration on the iPad deployment.  “Such a hands-on learning tool, coupled with Blackboard, empowers students to ask more questions and work more independently to find answers.”

Other benefits of the iPad are not as readily felt…and for students, that fact is literally a load off their minds.  The days of the hefty backpack, loaded with homework and textbooks, are over at Kennedy.  District-provided textbooks are either preloaded or downloaded, along with novels, as Kennedy Catholic currently offers more than two-dozen eBook titles, ranging from Algebra and Mandarin to Moral Life and The Sacraments.  Homework and subsequent classroom discussion is posted and then continues on Blackboard.

Certainly, one of more popular features of the iPad is access to the App Store, a virtual warehouse of more than 760,000 applications designed to suit the user’s need.  For Kennedy students, note taking and test preparation are tantamount, which is why student iPads came preloaded with the Barron’s Regents app, as well as Notability.  The Barron’s classroom subscription enables teachers to incorporate the latest review questions into their lessons, while Notability fully integrates handwriting, typing, audio recording and PDF annotation into a seamless note taking experience that can be synced across multiple devices using cloud-based solutions such as Dropbox.  Again, all of it taking place in the students’ hands on their iPad 4s.

For good measure, the Gaels of Kennedy have also gone Google, as in Apps for Education.  In addition to a safe and secure e-mail environment whereby students and faculty all share protection under the same domain, Google Apps also provides 30GB of cloud-based storage accessible to students from their iPad 4s, personal devices or the library computer lab.  Moreover, the collaborative ability provided by Google Chat and shared, editable documents means group projects and study sessions can happen anywhere, at any time, and even include collaborators beyond Kennedy such as alumni or peers from other area schools.

“This is the future of education,” Father Vaillancourt said, “and they’re here now.  Together with our Catholic moral center and college-preparatory curriculum, we are giving students the tools to be successful both at the next level and in life.”




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