By Lou Baldwin
Special to the CS&T

Face it. We live in an age when young people hardly ever crack a book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. They are still reading but just not out of books. It’s the era of electronics.

In the European Union there is a strong push to provide every student with a personal netbook, which is a smaller version of a laptop computer. The movement is also catching on in the United States, and several archdiocesan schools are moving in that direction.

Mercy Vocational, the only Catholic vocational high school in the country, is the latest to get with the program. {{more}}

Next year the school’s 220 sophomores and juniors will be issued an Acer netbook they can take home with them, and ultimately all 400 students will receive one. The netbooks have a 10-inch screen and are small enough to easily fit into a backpack.

“We are working to become one to one with netbooks,” said Mercy vice president Catherine Glatts. “The students will be able to go get on the Internet, to go to our web servers and communicate with each other through Gmail. They will be able to Skype (communicate through audio and video through the netbook). There are wonderful sites they can get to through Google Docs and a lot of free books” accessible through Google.

Various programs can easily be loaded onto the netbooks, and if necessary, they can be hooked up to a printer just like a larger computer. An English teacher can do a reading and log, and the students share their log with the teacher, Glatts explained.

Lori Corcoran, a ninth-grade algebra teacher, has already been working with her students with netbooks already owned by the school which can be signed out for in-school use.

“It’s an awesome way to engage the students through interactive web sites,” she said. “They can work collaboratively, they can edit, they can copy work, and they can work in groups. With math it allows me to use different examples or ways to explain things. There are ways I explain things and ways other people explain them. Kids have different ways of learning.”

Like most Mercy students, freshman Matteo Bittner has a home computer. Not only is the netbook easier to carry than books, “I am used to reading data on a screen rather than looking at pages,” he said. “I think a lot of students like this; they are more comfortable going online than looking something up in books.”

Nancy Caramanico, director of K-12 Technology for the archdiocesan Office for Catholic Education, attended a presentation of the netbook program at Mercy Vocational and was impressed.

“I think this definitely puts the work right at the fingertips of the students,” she said. “The school has spent some time researching this and spent last year getting ready. I’m impressed.”

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