by Cori Hilsgen
St. John’s Prep is gearing up for a new school year. The new year will include several changes. Beginning this year, SJP will start a new iPad program, will issue textbooks in electronic versions and will be using a new app.
All students in grades 6-12 will receive an iPad to be used in their classes and other activities and will keep their iPads with them. SJP principal Matthew Reichert said current enrollment is around 310 for the coming academic year. He said enrollment is flexible at this time of year and they often enroll students up to and even slightly beyond the first day.
SJP chose to use iPads instead of laptops in response to current trends. Research of top-tier colleges and universities, professionals, organizations, effective teaching strategies, student creativity and brain development led to the decision. As a college preparatory school, SJP felt it was their responsibility to respond to the iPad usage trend.
Reichert said iPads will allow students to interact with their textbooks and applications in a more dynamic way and will help with their organization and notetaking. He said iPads are proven to improve critical thinking and mind-mapping skills and will make learning accommodations for all students more equitable and more readily available.
“We have chosen to use iPads so we can issue all our textbooks in an electronic interactive format, so students can take notes and submit assignments digitally, and so we can take advantage of cutting-edge learning applications,” Reichert said.
He said he believes it’s important to have SJP’s entire instruction and learning move forward at the same pace and same level.
“Because it’s a very cooperative style of curriculum with shared teachers, mixed-grade courses, lots of electives, activities and other things, it’s important everyone is on the same page or, in this case, the same screen,” Reichert said.
Teachers will still have the freedom to teach and aren’t outsourcing instruction to machines, he said.
“Students and families choose the Prep School because we have a fantastic faculty of very qualified and exceptionally gifted educators,” Reichert said. “We didn’t want to get in the way of our most important activity.”
SJP faculty has been training for the last year for the new program. They participated in training with Apple technicians about how to use iPad unique software programs and also trained with using iPads and assistive technology for students who need learning modifications and accommodations.
Reichert said faculty is creating its own instructional materials and electronic textbooks. After many hours of training, its utilizing digital technology while maintaining its own distinct character and identity.
He said colleges have high expectations for freshman when they arrive in the fall.
“As a college preparatory-school, we direct our efforts toward meeting and exceeding these college expectations in every way we can,” Reichert said. “Colleges are expecting students to be able to collaborate, to think critically, to map concepts, to interact with emerging technology that’s constantly turning over, and to perform traditional operations (such as) notetaking, planning, writing, reading and discussion in a dynamic way. As we see more and more top-tier colleges and universities using iPads or encouraging their use, it’s a natural fit for us and for our mission to create an experience in high school that will set our students up for success in college.”
The iPad program is being funded through the SJP operating budget. Students will pay a small technology fee to cover the cost of insuring the iPads.
Because of the high cost of traditional technology such as desktops, laptops and other things, SJP was able to eliminate some of the existing computers students used and use that money toward the new iPad initiative. It expects the iPads will increase literacy access and help increase “green classrooms” while actually saving on long-term technology expenses.
Having iPads will help stretch SJP state funding dollars further. Each student receives a dedicated allocation for textbooks that often doesn’t cover the cost of purchasing one hard-cover textbook. That amount will go further when purchasing electronic textbooks which are cheaper, Reichert said.
SJP will also be using a new app called “St. John’s Preparatory School.” It’s an iPhone, Android and iPad app for current students, parents, staff as well as for alumni, benefactors, prospective families and other people interested in SJP.
The app is meant to keep up with changing technology and maintain constant and effective communication with all SJP students, families and other interested people.
“This app will help us parallel the changing ways we interact with one another,” Reichert said. “For many, our cell phones or iPads are increasingly becoming our primary portals to the world – for better or for worse. This app helps us stay current and utilizes current communication trends as well as allowing us to put our own stamp on the technology.”
SJP used a company called Straxis Technology to help create the app, which is free and can be downloaded from the iTunes store or from the app store on an Android device.
It will be used by current students for course information, accessing grades, communicating with faculty, news and announcements, campus ministry resources, library resources and even a recording of the school song. Parents and families can use the app for multimedia and social-media functions, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram accounts. It also has interactive versions of the SJP student and parent handbooks and a virtual tour of the campus and classrooms.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.