By Eileen Wilson

Perhaps, like me, you can remember a time when the vital components in any student’s arsenal of school supplies included a textbook, pens, pencils and, the favorite of many, the black marble copybook (all six to eight of them). If a child was really blessed, a bookcase filled with encyclopedias resided in the home. Armed with these staples, learning and research were within our grasp. My, how things have changed!

Gone are those tools of old, even the treasured encyclopedia. In six of the elementary schools within the Archdiocese, they have been replaced with digital netbooks. St. Matthew, Our Mother of Sorrows, St. Francis de Sales and Holy Innocents Schools, within the city limits, each received 30 netbooks to be used by students. Mary, Mother of the Redeemer in North Wales and St. Denis in Havertown are two suburban schools participating in this initiative.

Funding for the purchase of this relatively new technology became available through the federal economic stimulus program. Sister Mary McNulty, I.H.M., principal at St. Francis de Sales, sees the wonderful opportunity this offers students.

“Many of our students do not have computers at home, so this is a great way for our students to gain additional technological skills during daily classroom instruction,” she said.

The economic value of netbooks is appealing to schools. At about half the price of laptop computers, they are more cost-effective. While they do not have all of the bells and whistles that laptops carry as standard, netbooks do have wireless capability, making it easy to tap into the Internet, allowing students to use Web 2.0 tools like wikis and protected portals for exchanging content and sharing information. Microsoft Office, available on each netbook, allows students to complete simple word processing tasks.

“The new laptops will give us an opportunity to integrate technology into everyday lessons,” said Jennifer Oligino, a teacher at St. Denis School. “As the science teacher, I plan on having the students use the laptops for note-taking and for various research projects. We will also be able to use them to access different science web sites to supplement our curriculum.”

Justin Crossan, Taylor Barrett and Andrea Baric, eighth grade students at St. Denis School, are greatly anticipating using the netbooks to increase their amount of technological opportunities. They are also excited for this new way of learning, which will prepare them for high school and college.

Eileen Wilson is the director of Elementary Educational Services for the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education.