iPads prove valuable learning tool at St. Mary’s Middle School

Bill San Antonio

St. Mary’s Middle School history teacher Kevin O’Neill had never used an iPad before the school implemented the device into its everyday curriculum earlier this year, but these days he couldn’t imagine teaching without it.

“Everything we deal with in class happens somewhere in the world, and with an iPad, you can actually go to those places,” he said. “Right now, we’re reading firsthand accounts of the Great Depression, and when we studied the American Revolution, we were able to see different battle sites online.”

St. Mary’s High School had begun distributing iPads to its incoming freshmen two years ago, as part of a “go green” initiative with the Town of North Hempstead toward attaining its Middle States accreditation, and the technology has since made its way to the middle school.

“We’re been known to be a technologically advanced campus,” school spokeswoman Eileen Symmons said. “St. Mary’s was among one of the first Catholic schools on Long Island to launch an iPad initiative.” 

Every seventh and eighth grade student at St. Mary’s, as well as their teachers, now receives an iPad loaded with more than 50 educational applications ranging from note-taking programs to digital versions of their textbooks.

“It really helps me stay organized and makes it easier to study for trimesters,” said eighth grader Peter Fischetii, who will continue using St. Mary’s iPads when he moves on to the High School in the fall. “We’re always prepared.”


Middle School Principal Dr. Celeste Checchia said Apple’s data transferring system, which overwrites the entire device’s network when synced to another Apple device,

helps prevent students from becoming distracted because they cannot download new programs onto their iPads.

Because the program is so new to the Middle School, Checchia said the students do not get to keep the iPads they use, but the eventual goal is for students to use the same iPad as they advance to the High School.

“We thought at first that it would decrease the students’ attention spans, but it’s actually made the students more excited to learn,” said English teacher Trudy Hoffman.

Seventh grader Nick Caliendo has been running an iPad support center, modeled after the “genius bar” services available at Apple stores, twice a week out of Hoffman’s classroom during lunch periods for the last few weeks.

Caliendo said he makes early morning rounds to classrooms, scheduling appointments with students to help fix their email systems or teaching them how to use particular applications and programs.

Hoffman said the genius bar gives students who have been slower to adapt to Apple products the opportunity to learn the iPad technology without the pressure of having to complete an assignment.

It’s also helped build Caliendo’s self-esteem, she said, and become a way for students to learn from each other.

Caliendo said his older brother had taught him how to use Apple technology when the first-generation iPad was released, and is currently in the process of training sixth grader Lauren Giaclone to eventually succeed him.

“The students are much more engaged in everything they do because they’ve grown up in this multimedia culture,” English and theology teacher Sarah de Venoge said. “They want to do everything on them.” 

de Venoge said faculty members receive technology updates from Checchia as they become available, and teachers have become prone to sharing their methods of using iPads in class during faculty meetings.

“I have my own and got one from the school,” she said. “What I like to do is put them up side by side so I can put my rubric up on one and use the other as I need it for lessons or looking at their work, because I have the same apps on mine as they do.”

de Venoge said the iPad has enabled her to periodically update files of lesson plans that she can take anywhere, but its greatest convenience may be that it has cut down on some of the more tedious aspects of a teacher’s life.

“It’s really made my life easier because I don’t have to make copies anymore,” she said.

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