St. Brigid of Kildare Catholic School is evolving to meet the needs of 21st century education with laptops, time for collaboration and a think tank.

St. Brigid of Kildare Catholic School is evolving to meet the needs of 21st century education with laptops, time for collaboration and a think tank.

Students began the new school year with some changes in place created by a new three-year plan to take St. Brigid of Kildare School into the 21st century.

"We're very excited about the changes," Principal Kathy O'Reilly said.

"It's certainly allowed us to meet the needs of the 21st century learning with research and collaboration and all the things we're trying."

A three-year plan was developed with the assistance of Tracy Healy, a parent who also owns Future Think, an educational facility planning and visioning company.

"She led us through visioning with the whole staff on what teaching and learning should look like in the 21st century," O'Reilly said.

"We looked at what kids are doing and what they'll be doing in five years and what we think will be happening in 10 years."

The work also got teachers looking into collaboration, technology, different instructional styles, team teaching and block scheduling, Healy said.

"In days gone by the three Rs were it. They're still important, but we're looking for higher-level skills like critical thinking (and) problem solving," Healy said. "We need to look at how to get through content and other things as well."

Teachers also evaluated things that worked well at the school and things that did not, and from there established a three-year plan with four focus areas: space, technology, scheduling and special-needs resources.

With the first year of implementation, O'Reilly said space and schedules were adjusted to allow more time for small group work among students.

"We are able to do a lot more small group work and we have enough staff now," she said.

"We hired some staff and built schedules to allow for breakout times and longer class periods and more time for in-depth research."

A think tank was established in front of the library for small group space and the band was moved from the overcrowded Enke Hall to a former storage room that better fits its space needs. Enke Hall can now be used for small group work and divided as needed.

For technology, the school purchased 250 Chrome Books for fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders and improved wireless connectivity in the building.

As for improvement in special needs resources, O'Reilly said an intervention specialist was added as well as five educational support assistants.

"Now we have a team of seven as opposed to the two or three we had before," she said, adding that SPICE, the group that does fund raising for special needs resources, helped with funding.

"They helped us with training for the teachers and paying for staff. They're also paying for assistive technology."

While changes have been made to evolve for the future, O'Reilly said the school is keeping one important piece of education at St. Brigid.

"The most important thing for us is since we're a Catholic school, is keeping what's traditional about the Catholic education mission and commitment to faith," she said.

"We're helping kids poise themselves to be responsible, digital, Catholic citizens."

The next phase in the three-year 21st century learning plan will begin next year as committees look at research and STEM initiatives.

"Our goal is to evaluate (what we've done) by February or March and then identify what we can do over the next 2014-15 school year and what may need to fall behind," Healy said.

"What we have coming next is pretty big."