St. Peter School celebrated the official opening of their new media resource lab Friday, with a ribbon cutting ceremony and presentation.
It was a nine-month process, starting with a task force to look at space, upgrade needs and the potential for future expansion, but the school’s former library has been transformed into a state-of-the-art computer lab, complete with 26 new Dell desktop computers, new furniture, the Windows 8 operating system and Microsoft Office 2013 on each computer, and access to a Skydrive for all students.
Following a blessing from Father Roger Gagne and the official ribbon cutting by Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, Father Robert Marciano and Principal Joan Sickinger, guests were invited inside the lab to see the equipment, watch the students demonstrate the new software and listen to a presentation from second grade teacher Colleen Kenyon.
“We thought it would take us a much longer time to get this room than it did,” said Sickinger.
She said the $30,000 needed was generously provided to the school by Father Gagne and the students have already been benefiting from the improved technology.
Sickinger explained that the space that is now a computer lab was previously the library; the computers were kept in a smaller room down the hall. She says the space provided by the large room was not being used effectively since each classroom already had their own small library as well. So the larger space was transformed into a state-of-the-art media research center, which opened three weeks into the school year.
Sickinger added that all of the equipment and furniture came unassembled, but a group of parent volunteers came together and spent a Saturday assembling everything. Parent volunteer Greg Birmingham is responsible for putting the lab together, technology-wise. Not only did he create a layout plan so the entire lab could be wired properly, but he set up each computer with the proper software, set up the domain server, and much more. He is also connected to the new network at all times.
“I can connect to the server and do anything I could do from here from anywhere,” explained Birmingham.
He is constantly monitoring the secure network to ensure no outside hackers gain access.
He said his children, who are in the sixth and second grade at St. Peter, have enjoyed the new lab.
“They love it. They look forward to it,” said Birmingham. “They’ve got the best of the best.”
Since the lab’s completion, the students have many opportunities to use the space. Children in each of the grades have one formal computer class taught by a computer teacher, but there are also free periods during which any classroom teacher can sign up and bring their class into the lab for a special lesson or research project using the technology.
The setup of the system allows for students to access safe and reliable websites only for their projects. Computer teacher Lisa Der Manouelian, who teaches students in the middle school grades, explained that the students use an online system known as Symbaloo. Each student can log onto the program and find appropriate websites for their grade level.
“We have our middle school research sites,” said Der Manouelian, which includes sites for Library of Congress, the National Archives, etc. “For the younger students there are a lot of phonics learning sites, PBS, things like that.”
She also explained that each grade level uses the technology in different, age-appropriate ways. While older students are completing research projects and PowerPoint presentations, younger students may be making timelines using Microsoft Excel templates from their teacher or using typing programs to learn keyboarding skills.
For a specific example, Der Manouelian explained that the technology has been incredibly useful as the eighth graders prepare for History Fair.
“Some of the eighth graders are going to be making websites or documentaries using the technology,” she said.
She also explained the usefulness of the Skydrive system, which allows students to save work to a secure online network. Students can work on a project at school, save it to the Skydrive and then still be able to access it when they get home to continue their work.
“It’s nice not to have to depend on flash drives,” said Der Manouelian.
The students are also seeing the advantages of their new equipment.
“It’s faster,” said Jack DeJordy, an eighth grader. “Being able to access the sites is easier.”
“I think it is much easier to get to apps and things,” said Kristina Davtian, an eighth grader, about the new Windows 8 system.
Both eighth graders said they have been able to use the lab’s new resources for a PowerPoint presentation and a book report so far.