(This article has been reprinted with the permission of “The Oyster Pointer”)

By Dr. Terilyn Goins

Journalist Sydney Harris once said, “the whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” This quote epitomizes the learning aspirations set forth at Peninsula Catholic High School (PCHS). With its tech-savvy classrooms, its level playing field for all students and its commitment to quality education, PCHS sets the standard and paves the way for educational innovation and technological advancements that are certain to change the face of the typical high school classroom.

Located on Harpersville Road in Newport News, Peninsula Catholic High School is the oldest Catholic school on the Virginia Peninsula. While PCHS relishes in its long sense of tradition and rich historical roots, it is, by no means, afraid of growing with the times.

Considering the technological growth within modern society, PCHS offers its students what it refers to as a one-to-one educational program, a system in which each student is issued his or her own Chromebook that connects to Google tools, social media and the virtual world at large.

To acclimate students to the college experience that lies ahead, PCHS offers digital learning days one Friday a month, a time in which students work and learn within the virtual domain. Via the Canvas Learning Management System, students receive digital instruction, engage in digital activities and digitally submit work and receive feedback. This setup precludes any snow or makeup days in the event of inclement weather, students don’t have to miss school.

“It’s a different kind of learning,” says tech specialist Melanie Weiser. “In some ways, students think it’s a little more difficult (than the traditional classroom), but they like that it allows them to sleep in, have shorter work days and go to class wearing their pajamas.”

Technologically, PCHS is taking on yet another endeavor: integration of a distance-learning lab, set to be in place for the spring semester. The lab includes a conferencing network system that will connect PCHS to other schools in the diocese, allowing it to do debates, hold collaborative theological discussions, engage in joint planning and learning and simply function in a space of community learning and growth.

Peninsula Catholic Principal Jenny Franklin posits that every innovation introduced at the school is done toward “the betterment of students.”

“We are always moving toward excellence in the classroom,” she said.

To foster digital learning, and to teach “good digital citizenship,” students are permitted to have their cell phones with them in the classroom.

“This allows us to teach them when it’s appropriate to check their phones and when it’s not the right time,” asserts Franklin. “If their phones are locked away somewhere,” she says, “they can never learn these skills.”

Coupled with the technological integration is the focus on character and spiritual development.

“By the time a student finishes his or her schooling at PCHS,” says student counselor Dan Batkin, “the student is certainly prepared for college and to be successful but, more importantly, the student is prepared to go out into the world and make it a better place.”

As part of their educational journey, PCHS students attend retreats, bond with one another, focus on their faith walk and spend a lot of time in service for others. Last year alone, students clocked in more than 14,000 hours of service, from ringing bells for the Salvation Army to donating goods and monies to those in need to making dog toys for the SPCA to going on various mission trips.

“Even when they don’t have to,” touts Franklin, “they choose to go out and do things to serve others.”

Whether it’s highlighting student achievements, appointing anti-bullying advocates, celebrating birthdays, identifying and affirming appropriate behaviors, helping students distinguish right from wrong or introducing innovative learning tools, Peninsula Catholic High School offers an affordable option for those seeking educational alternatives.

“We understand that the families who choose to send their students to us are making an investment in their student’s future‚ we are aware of that every day,” says Batkin, “and we are willing to make that investment in their students’ futures as well.”