Holy Cross Catholic School is hoping the public will come through with the dollars needed to supply each of its students with a computer, to bring the institution on par with its public school peers.

That’s because, while most students and teachers in Grades 7 and 8 get free laptops through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, private schools aren’t so lucky. They have to shell out of pocket to join the program. Institutions like Holy Cross can take advantage of the same pricing deals negotiated with vendors by the state, both to lease laptops and tablets and to buy the devices at the end of the four-year contract. However, while public schools lease their machines from the state, private schools deal directly with the vendor.

“You may want to ask the governor why private schools such as Holy Cross can’t have the same access,” wrote Principal Christine L’Abbe? in an email Monday. “But when I came to Holy Cross a year ago, the hiring committee and school committee made it a priority to bring technology into the school and get devices into the hands of the students. So, that’s what we’ve done.”

Located at 426 Broadway in South Portland, Holy Cross has 168 students in pre-kindergarten through Grade 8. Currently, it has just 20 iPads for the entire student body.

However, the school has found a donor, who prefers to remain anonymous, willing to make a “three-to-one” matching donation enough for Holy Cross to supply all of its students with either a MacBook Air laptop or an iPad, thereby achieving the same “one-to-one computing” model to which public schools also aspire.

Under the terms of the agreement, the donor will give $20,000 per year for each year Holy Cross can raise $6,600 on its own, for up to three years. That money would be used to supplement the MLTI program, which supplies free laptops to students and teachers in Grades 7 and 8, along with instructional and technical support.

“We are hoping that this incredible development will inspire our community to reach our $6,600 annual goal,” said L’Abbe?. “If we are able to raise that money, the $20,000 [annual] donation will allow us to elevate our technology and enhance the experience of every student at our school.”

In addition to soliciting tax-deductible donations, the school plans a Crusader Run, a calendar raffle and a tulip bulb fundraiser, in addition to raffling off an iPad at its annual Christmas Fair.

In late April, the state chose the Hewlett-Packard ProBook 4400 running Windows 7 as its laptop of choice after bidding out a new three-year lease program to manufacturers. However, it also chose to let each school district pursue its own course, if it was willing to pay the difference between the HP device and options submitted by other vendors. Schools may also lease any of the five options, at cost, for students in grades other than 7 and 8.

Gov. Paul LePage reportedly chose the HP laptop because Windows devices are thought to be more prevalent in the workplace. Those machines which cost the state $286 each, including fees for networking installation, maintenance and service were ranked fourth by a multi-state committee convened to judge the five proposals.

The Apple iPad, at $266 each, was both the least expensive option and the one ranked highest by the committee, which gave the device a score of 93 out of 100 points. The HP laptop, by comparison, logged 79.3 points.

The other options were the Apple MacBook Air, the most expensive option at $319 each, with a quality score of 90.8, as well as HP’s ElitePad tablet and the 2go Convertible Classmate NL4, made by CTL

A June 14 statement by the MLTI office revealed that despite HP’s preferred status, Apple products have been the overwhelming choice of Maine schools. “This fall,” the release reads, “39,457 students and educators will start using Apple’s iPad tablet, followed by 24,128 using Apple’s MacBook Air and 5,474 using the HP ProBook 4440 laptop.”

If Holy Cross’ funding drive is successful, each student in Grades 6 through 8 at the school will get a MacBook Air assigned for the year.

L’Abbe? said Holy Cross chose the MacBooks, despite their being marginally more expensive than HP’s laptop offer, because school staff already had experience with Apple products. The school dipped its toe in the technology pool by purchasing 20 iPads last year, she said.

“All of our technology-proficient teachers and administrators at Holy Cross are already ‘out of the stall,’ as they say, on the Apple devices,” said L’Abbe?. “Plus, Apple products are great for media, photos and video, with no viruses to worry about, and the professional development and tech are the best.”

In addition to the MacBook purchase, Holy Cross hopes to obtain an iPad for each student in Grades 4 and 5.

“The students will be able to take them back and forth to school like a textbook,” wrote Dave Guthro, communications director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, in a July 16 press release. “Learning about and taking full advantage of the new technology together is an opportunity to continue to strengthen the Holy Cross Catholic School community.”

The 20 iPads previously purchased by the school will then be made available to students enrolled in Pre-K through Grade 3.

“There is great, positive energy surrounding our technology opportunities at Holy Cross Catholic School,” said L’Abbe?. “To say the students are excited is an understatement. They look forward to showing us what they know about the world of technology.

“As with everything here, this is a team effort,” said L’Abbe?. “It is teachers and students helping each other to move forward in the same direction. We want what is best for our students and we want to ensure that we provide them with the tools that will give them the ‘edge’ both spiritually and academically.”

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