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home : features : catholic schools

1/26/2012 9:30:00 AM
Bishop Maginn High gets new look, new outlook
FIFTY-FIVE PERCENT of Maginn students are Catholic; most participate in two or three major volunteer projects a month. Mass is celebrated by the school's chaplain every morning before school, and every class starts with a prayer. The students also attend monthly prayer services and Mass for holy days and special occasions. (Angela Cave photo)
FIFTY-FIVE PERCENT of Maginn students are Catholic; most participate in two or three major volunteer projects a month. Mass is celebrated by the school's chaplain every morning before school, and every class starts with a prayer. The students also attend monthly prayer services and Mass for holy days and special occasions. (Angela Cave photo)

Dead bodies aren't portrayed accurately in the movies, said Alexa DiBiase, a senior at Bishop Maginn High School in Albany.

"It looks pretty much plastic" in reality, she said after viewing spinal cords and brains last week at nearby Albany Medical College's cadaver lab. "When you see it in real life, it's like you can't even believe it."

Alexa and her 19 classmates taking a college-level anatomy course are participating in a six-session pilot program with the college, offering them a chance to view limbs, blood vessels and the cardiovascular and digestive systems in 3-D.

Their teacher wants to continue the partnership; the visits prove more effective than showing students the insides of a frog or charts and diagrams.

"Our students are just completely in awe," said Tina DiPasquale, teacher of anatomy and living environment. "They're getting an experience I could never give them in a classroom."

Bishop Maginn's new head of school, Joe Salamack, aims to expand partnerships with other colleges: He proposed a business law elective featuring visits to Albany Law School and the offices of judges, senators and assembly members. He envisions "hybrid" classrooms that encompass online, community and work-study components, much like a college classroom.

This summer, Bishop Maginn will offer a trial online religion course for juniors and seniors, freeing up their fall schedules for extra electives and AP and college classes.

"The transition from this high school to college is going to be so easy for these kids," promised Rich Gilooly, a Maginn teacher, dean and director of instructional technology.

Many Bishop Maginn classes now use websites, Facebook pages, iPads, interactive SMART Boards and student laptops to enhance the learning experience. Students can create interactive presentations and interview public officials through video conferencing.

"We're excited about it, because higher education is moving very quickly in that direction," Mr. Gilooly said. "We do a lot of things where we almost trick them into learning."

Many of Mr. Salamack's recent changes to the high school echo college life. He overhauled the school's public image, producing a glossy brochure and website and advertising through lawn signs, radio and a billboard; he distributed laptops to all freshmen and expects to eventually equip every student with one.

Every teacher uses a laptop and will launch a blog this spring. Students and teachers will also use Blackboard, an online education tool familiar in colleges and universities.

In recent years, Bishop Maginn has been plagued by false rumors of violence, cheating and potential closure. Parents and community members have expressed concern over declining enrollment, currently at about 135 students. In its heyday in the late 1970s, after its heritage schools merged to form Bishop Maginn, the school welcomed almost 1,000 students.

But applications are on the rise, Mr. Salamack said with confidence: "We're not going anywhere."

Students and teachers agree their new leader has cleaned up Bishop Maginn's image in many ways, from replacing broken windows, repainting and re-flooring to reviving open house opportunities.

The school also adopted a web-based guidance counseling program that better prepares students for college and professional life, allowing them to plan courses, map scores, identify colleges within their reach and organize application deadlines.

A new guidance counseling center has housed college meetings, parent meetings and financial aid seminars. There's a student lounge and new computer labs. Mr. Salamack started a new financial aid program, added a choir and will soon add band. Dusty trophy cases were polished and now proudly boast the history of Bishop Maginn and its heritage schools.

"There's just like a new feeling," observed Kimberly Williams, director of learning needs. "Like things are gonna be good again."

Senior Sean Spath said he noticed last fall that "it just looked different than the three other years I've been here. Everything just seemed nicer. I just feel upbeat and confident."

Related Stories:
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• Hosts welcome ND-BG international students

Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, February 6, 2012
Article comment by: Ed Sullivan

I no longer live in the Diocese of Albany, I now live in Reading, PA (Diocese of Allentown, PA). The state of Catholic education in Albany is very sad, it's as if it's being allowed to die. It's not like that down here where I live. Yes, they have challenges too, but the Catholic HS in Reading, PA has over 700 students...and Reading is a smaller city than Albany...and it is the poorest city in America. What gives, Albany?

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