Published September 17, 2009
At Our Lady of Mercy High School, students use state-of-the-art computers to design windmills to provide electricity for a new waterfall. In biology classes, students are investigating rates of photosynthesis on high-powered calculators. The school’s chaplain is teaching a course called “Theology of the Garden.”
The young people and faculty here are turning a section of the school’s 54 acres into an outdoor laboratory, designing a vegetable garden, weather station, pond and small animal habitat.
This project is funded by a 2009 HP Innovations in Education Grant to boost student interest in high-tech careers. The Hewlett-Packard grant comes with technology, cash and professional services valued at more than $265,000.
Anthony Nelson, the chairman of the high school’s business and technology department, said the grant allows faculty to “teach without walls.”
Students will explore the natural world with new technologies such as wireless HP tablet computers, new printers and high-power mobile workstations. The project also encourages community service by looking at real-world issues such as hunger and waste reduction.
Father Jimmy Adams, a priest for 27 years, is leading close to 20 students on understanding a garden from a Catholic and Christian perspective.
“We’ve been charged by God to be good stewards of all his creation,” he said.
“We’ve already researched where gardens showed up in Scripture. You don’t think about it. The Garden of Eden is obvious, along with the Garden of Gethsemane, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon,” he said.
It is a new elective for students and a new role for the long-time priest and garden lover. And for many of his students, it’ll be the first time they get dirt underneath their fingernails.
“It’ll help them realize that plants don’t always come precut and frozen,” he said. “This is where we get this stuff. We’ll be able to partake of the fruits of our labor.”
While winter vegetables are being planted soon, Father Adams said he wants the flowers and plants to grow year round. During the summer months, students will reach out to a local food pantry to provide produce with the “Plant a Row for the Hungry” campaign.
Father Adams’ hope is to build from the unused courtyard a place of peace.
“I would love it to look like what I imagine the Garden of Eden to look like, lots of vegetation, a place where people can go, a meditative place, where there is peace. I’d love to see that,” he said.
Teachers and administrators at the school and the archdiocese developed “Project INTEL: Integrating Nature and Technology for Enhanced Learning.” The goal of the two-year project is to revamp college-preparatory teaching by bringing together technology and the natural environment.
The project is also designed to increase students’ ownership of the learning process, improve their team building and research skills. In addition to HP technology, the grant supports eight teachers with top-notch professional development resources through the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). It will provide mentors, online resources, workshops and conferences to help the project team implement the task and evaluate it during the two-year grant period.
The grant’s technology and professional development provide new educational opportunities and support Mercy’s overall goals.
“Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School always strives for academic excellence,” said Danny Dorsel, school principal. “The blessing of the HP Innovations in Education Grant certainly helps us accomplish that major goal.”
The team behind the proposal is Our Lady of Mercy High School staff, including Dorsel, principal; JoAnn McPherson, assistant principal; Mark Roshak, IT director; Monica Haaland, director of advancement; and department chairs Sergio Burguet, Nelson and Sharon Shaw. Other Mercy teachers on the project team are Ana DeMello, Ben Eidson, Matt Hofkes and Dr. Vincent Nwogu. Tom Campbell, associate superintendent of schools, and Tom Pope, director of information technology, are the archdiocesan representatives on the team with assistance from Bill Wider, development associate, during the grant-writing phase of the project.
Technology provided by the grant will also serve as a bridge connecting Mercy students with the greater community. Students will use powerful HP mobile workstations to design, build, and maintain the project’s Web site, www.OurVirtualGarden.com, that will feature an online garden.
In addition, HP’s Virtual Training Room and DyKnow Software Suite will help create virtual learning environments by connecting students in Mercy classrooms with experts from local high-tech businesses and universities for online discussions and collaboration.
This initiative follows HP’s five-year, $60 million investment in HP Technology for Teaching grants to more than 1,000 schools and universities in 41 countries.