Roman Catholic High School for Boys
Philadelphia, Pa.
Grant: $80,000; Funded 2016-17

Problem: Reaching for Higher Skills

Proficiency in a foreign language has always been one mark of a truly classical education. It is also a much-valued asset for admission to selective colleges and suitability for attractive entry-level positions and ongoing promotion in multi-cultural workplaces. What’s more, offering this caliber of language instruction greatly increases a school’s competitive advantage. While respected for its language instruction for many years, Roman Catholic High School tagged world languages as a primary growth area in its strategic plan. More than 70 percent of the students are enrolled in a world language taught by five full-time teachers and three adjunct or part-time teachers, four of whom are native speakers of Italian, Spanish, and Chinese. The department offers four-year programs in French, Italian, and Spanish, a three-year program in Classical Latin, and a two-year program in Mandarin Chinese. Classes in German and Arabic have also been offered, and honors tracks challenge students in Latin, Italian, French, and Spanish. Roman had no shortage of ambition; what it lacked were the resources to act on its goal to push students to higher levels of oral, aural, reading, and writing excellence in a world language.

Solution: Create and Equip the Right Environment

School administrators determined that dedicated lab space for language exercises and the use of top-rated software were key to correcting the programming limitations identified by the languages faculty. Built in 1890, Roman Catholic High School is the oldest diocesan boys’ high school in the nation. Expanded in 1998, the school carved a modest lab from the John and Mary McShain Library and Information Center to house needed technology. With an $80,000 grant from the Archdiocesan Educational Fund, Roman purchased 36 student stations/carrels to outfit computer hardware purchased with funding from another source. The Fund grant underwrote the cost of well-regarded SANAKO language software licenses, headsets, and maintenance support for the 36 stations, a video module, and teacher console items that operate as command central.

Results: Every Opportunity to Excel

The Reverend Joseph T. Murphy Language Lab, named in honor of a respected retired faculty member, builds on the classroom experience in advancing each student’s mastery of his particular language of study. The multimedia lab provides space for teachers to integrate language technology and engage multiple students at the same time. This ability to simultaneously apply remediation and enrichment exercises to individual students helps teachers in managing each boy’s ability and learning style. Teachers can listen in on the student’s responses to various prompts and monitor his developing skills in reading, listening, comprehending, writing, and speaking the language. Students can work independently on their assignments, as well. They can record and listen to themselves speaking the foreign language and then digitally graph the recording so they can see their speech, pronunciation, and inflection as compared with a native speaker’s delivery. This technology provides additional test documentation that helps teachers, students, and parents objectively understand each student’s strengths and weaknesses as well as supply the tools to improve individual fluency. Roman is the only Catholic high school among the archdiocese’s 17 to offer its students the well-regarded SANAKO software. The Murphy Language Lab has been credited with assisting Roman Catholic High School in being recognized as a World Language School of Distinction this past year.

“In a highly competitive educational environment, mastery of a world language allows a student to stand out among his peers. Our new World Language lab will provide the opportunity for our students to develop this competitive edge.”

Rev. Joseph Bongard ’77
Roman Catholic High School for Boys