By Jenelyn Russo     5/6/2021

The staff at St. Joseph Catholic School in Santa Ana received some unexpected gifts recently when a generous donation provided for the purchase of Microsoft Surface Pro tablet computers for the school’s teachers.  

Having navigated through full distance learning last spring, and with as many as 50 percent of their school families opting for remote learning during the winter months, St. Joseph’s has remained committed to providing its families safe options for instruction. 

Christopher Jin, president of Unite Health Share Ministries (UHSM), a nonprofit, faith-based health sharing ministry headquartered in Norfolk, Va. read about how Catholic schools within the Diocese of Orange like St. Joseph Santa Ana were stepping up and going to extraordinary lengths to meet the educational needs of their students and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But Jin also understood that with that commitment comes the need for the right tools. After learning that the teachers at St. Joseph’s were using Chromebooks to either teach from home or provide remote instruction from the classroom, he decided to see what he and UHSM could do to help. 

“I’m a bit of a tech geek, and I know that there’s no way you can run a Zoom class on one of those Chromebooks,” says Jin. “They don’t have enough power.” 

Indeed, there are some limitations with Chromebooks when it comes to certain applications, so after communicating to the Diocese his intent for UHSM to donate Surface Pro tablets to the school, and working with Microsoft to obtain discounted pricing, St. Joseph Santa Ana principal Kelly Botto surprised her teachers in February with 11 of the much-needed upgraded devices. 

“Our teachers are so happy,” says Botto. “They’re using them all the time. It gives them more freedom and mobility in their classrooms.” 

Approximately 10 percent of St. Joseph’s students have chosen to remain in remote learning, so not only have the teachers experienced an increase in capability when it comes to using Zoom, but they can also seamlessly deliver instruction in subjects such as math by utilizing the Surface Pens to solve problems directly on the screen. St. Joseph sixth grade teacher ThanhToan” Pham feels the Surface Pro has added a new dimension to his teaching. 

“It allows me to create engaging lessons wherever inspiration strikes without being confined to just the classroom,” says Pham. “It provides processing power that a Chromebook cannot match.” 

Additionally, St. Joseph Santa Ana is one of three school sites within the Diocese that has begun a three-year training program with Loyola Marymount University’s iDEAL Institute (Innovation in Digital Education & Learning) to become certified as a Blended Learning Partnership School. The Surface Pros will support the applications the school is using to achieve this designation. 

“With all the different programs that we are using as part of the [iDEAL] program … these devices are going to really help the teachers, even more so, in building strength in the blended learning program,” says Botto. 

Jin says he and UHSM are continuing to look for ways to support the Diocese of Orange and other faith communities through the challenges of the pandemic. 

“Churches are a pillar in the community, and they do so much for their local communities,” says Jin. 

Meanwhile, the teachers at St. Joseph Santa Ana are grateful for the support from their guardian angels. 

“I’m so thankful and just astounded at their generosity and their level of commitment to embracing and supporting our teachers,” says Botto. “By supporting our teaching staff, they’re really supporting our students. It’s such a blessing.”