By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

The future of education is here and now in Philadelphia at St. Hubert High School, and it was celebrated by a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 6.

The ceremony marked the inauguration of interactive distance learning through an innovative video conference center which has been quietly in operation since the beginning of the fall term.

A small group of eight students, has been participating in an English 101 class at Holy Family University, a pilot program for things to come.

Each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, through two-way projected telecast, the St. Hubert girls participate in a college class while it is actually in progress at Holy Family without leaving their school.

“This offers our girls a wonderful opportunity,” said St. Hubert principal Immaculate Heart Sister Mary Smith.

Through the new technology, they can interact with the instructor and students at Holy Family, who can also interact with them, she explained. In doing so, they fulfill their course requirement at St. Hubert, but at the same time earn college credits that can be applied to their future education at Holy Family or another college.

“The girls absolutely love it,” said St. Joseph Sister Alma Rose Schlosser, St. Hubert’s president. “Video conferencing makes distance learning happen in a unique way.”

It didn’t happen by itself. Sister Alma credits Holy Family Sister Francesca Onley, president of the University and a St. Hubert board member, for her solid support and the expertise of her staff for getting the project off the ground. Funding grants ($60,000) obtained by State Representative John Perzel and State Senator Mike Stack made the equipment purchases and necessary renovations possible.

“I hope we can do more programs and include more students,” Sister Francesca said. “St. Hubert is a fine feeder school for Holy Family University.” It was also tax dollars, she said, that helped Holy Family create its own center for technology. “This enables us to reach out to St. Hubert and will enable us to reach out to other high schools in the future,” she said.

“When I was asked to help the girls take college courses and do high school courses simultaneously, I said yes,” Perzel told the gathering “Obviously it’s not my money, it’s your money.” St. Hubert senior Stevielynn Brown, who is participating in the pilot program, finds a college course more challenging. “Everything builds up; there is more thinking in the writing classes,” she said. But she appreciates the smaller class sizes of a college course. “The teacher can concentrate on inspaniduals, she said.

Laura Presser, also taking the course, said, “I have to think harder than I used to. It is helping me write paragraphs and pages.”

In point of fact, Holy Family University is just about two miles from St. Hubert’s Torresdale and Cottman Avenues campus. St. Hubert students were already going to Holy Family for college courses. But the new technology pioneered between the two schools has implications far beyond their neighborhoods.

As participants at the ribbon-cutting noted, in the future St. Hubert students could participate in classes at other universities too, regardless of distance. High schools could have joint classes, teachers could take credit courses, and elementary school students could participate in high school classes. Interactive distance learning is here to stay.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.