Though their school’s address is 1000 N. Greece Road, most St. Lawrence School students hang out at the information superhighway’s global crossroads.
Through an online pen-pal program called ePals, third-graders correspond with students in Japan and Chicago, and fifth-graders correspond with students at an Italian school. Next year, St. Lawrence hopes to get its fourth grade involved in the online project.
"Most of the (international) schools have English as a second language (classes)," said Principal Joseph Holleran. "Most of them are excited about interacting with American students because they want to practice English."
The global focus of St. Lawrence’s program, called One Village, is just one example of how Catholic schools throughout the diocese are using technology to connect their students to others around the world.
In December St. Louis School in Pittsford posted its first video clip at www.SchoolTube.com. The video of kindergartners singing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" at the Dec. 11 Christmas pageant was shot by a sixth-grade student.
The popularity of video is one reason why Leonor Rivera, the school’s educational-technology coordinator, worked this school year to get the capabilities to post video to the Internet. She said she decided the school should post video on SchoolTube because all videos are reviewed twice: once by the school and once by SchoolTube to ensure that content is appropriate. Rivera started a video club in January, and members will film school events and post them to SchoolTube.
Using the latest technology, she said, is one way she can help students get the best technical, academic and faith-based education for their tuition. It also can help connect students to family members who live far away, she noted.
"We are very excited," Rivera said about posting videos to the Internet. "It’s just a whole new thing to be out there with video for grandparents and relatives far away to see."
She also has used technology to help students take a virtual and prayerful trip to modern-day Jerusalem through the Web site of the Via Dolorosa, or Way of the Cross. The Web site features scenic, panoramic 360-degree photographs of the original Stations of the Cross through modern-day Jerusalem.
"It’s a very beautiful, spiritual thing, and we can show these kids that all these places still exist, and show them the reverence that’s held for the Church of the Nativity (in Jerusalem)," Rivera said.
Rivera, an electrical engineer by training who left a corporate job to volunteer and later teach at her children’s Catholic school, said she uses her classes to help students explore the world of computers from the inside out. For example, Rivera teaches students how to install a computer memory chip and about the solder used in computer construction. A recent extra-credit project challenged students to find a way to recycle or reuse floppy disks.
"I think it’s respectful to understand the magic inside the computer," Rivera said. "If anything, it makes you feel spiritual to know that it was conceived by the minds of brilliant people who could have only been given that knowledge by God."
Rivera said she tries to integrate such subjects as art and religion into her technology courses. For example, students learning to type will practice using popular prayers. In this way she said she was able to correct a student who misheard the Hail Mary as "Hail Mary full of grapes" — a reference, the student thought, to the fruit of Mary’s womb.
"When classes end, I get so sad, because I wanted more time with each of them to talk to them and hear what they have to say," Rivera said.
At St. Agnes School in Avon, students have used technology to learn about cultures from around the world.
For their educational-technology classes, first-, second- and third-grade students followed along with the travels of adventurer Flat Stanley during their Christmas break.
The students gave their friends and relatives paper cutouts of the literary character Flat Stanley, and in turn their friends and relatives promised to take the cutouts on their travels and report where the Flat Stanleys had been. The Flat Stanleys traveled across the U.S., visiting such states as Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and South Dakota, and went as far away as Italy, Madagascar and Newfoundland. Stanley recipients were asked to document the Flat Stanleys’ activities and how various places celebrate the holidays.
As the Stanleys returned from their trips, students used computers to research the locations visited, and the holiday foods, traditions and events native to each location, said Melissa Savino, St. Agnes’ educational-technology coordinator. They also compared how the Flat Stanleys spent their Christmases, as opposed to how the students typically spend theirs.
Although this was the first time the school put a Christmas twist on the Flat Stanley project, students have sent their Flat Stanleys on trips for several years. Last year, a Flat Stanley even traveled to the South Pole with a student’s relative. The school posted on its Web site a photo of Stanley at the striped pole, surrounded by the flags of several nations.
"It’s really exciting for them (the students) because Flat Stanley usually brings back really cool stuff," Savino said.
Back at St. Lawrence, students begin their day by locating the country of the day on a large map and displaying that country’s flag.
The school uses language as a way to help connect students globally. Preschool teacher Barbara Cattalani teaches Spanish to prekindergarten through second-grade students, while third- and fourth-graders are learning American Sign Language.
University of Rochester graduate student Zhang Nan also is teaching fifth- and sixth-grade students spoken and written Mandarin Chinese. The entire school also followed along with the Discovering Deaf Worlds project, in which alumnus David Justice and CBS’ "Survivor: The Amazon" contestant Christy Smith, who is deaf, traveled the world to explore deaf cultures. Students used maps and the Internet to monitor the pair’s progress as they traveled to New Zealand, Australia, Japan, China, Thailand, Cambodia, India and Nepal.
"There’s a lot of excitement and interest in new places and in being more global in your thought processes," Holleran said of the atmosphere at the school.
With laptops for teachers and interactive whiteboards, students are able to view interactive Internet content on a large screen in class. That can help them look up information about a country, or allow the entire class to play a computer-based language game.
"For young kids, it’s second nature," Holleran said of using technology. "They don’t think anything about getting on the Internet and getting information, or watching a video clip."