The Situation

St. Mary’s School for the Deaf is a private, state-supported school for the deaf and hard of hearing that serves students from infancy to age 21. In addition to a five-day residential program on its campus in Buffalo, New York, St. Mary’s offers academic programs specifically designed for students in the pre K, elementary, middle, and high school grades.

The staff at St. Mary’s evaluates each student and works to diagnose any complex disorders. Those insights enable St. Mary’s to tailor their programming for each student and develop unique academic programs that meet special educational needs.

Making sure students have access to technology is important for the teachers and administrators at St. Mary’s. The school prides itself on providing equitable access to educational opportunities and some of its students communicate using technology aids.

The Challenge

It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that all deaf or hard-of-hearing students are visual learners, or learners who prefer using images, color, and other visual media to learn. While visual aids play an important role in how deaf and hard-of-hearing students interact with material, a study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine showed that they are no more likely than hearing students to be visual learners.

However, physical learners, or learners who prefer to use their hands, bodies, and sense of touch to learn about the world, feature prominently among students who are deaf or hard of hearing. American Sign Language, for example, is a tactile communication modality. Not only is it performed using the hands, American Sign Language is often accompanied by body language for expression of nuance and tone.

Physical learners like to move around the classroom rather than spend an entire class period seated at a desk. They tend to benefit from classroom activities that involve movement and hands-on work as well as extra-curricular activities that involve action. Teachers at St. Mary’s frequently take their students on field trips so they can learn from firsthand experience.

To enhance the student experience in and out of the classroom, school officials have been laying the groundwork for a move to 1:1 computing, a learning environment in which each student and teacher is given a mobile computer to access the internet, digital course and supplemental material, and digital textbooks. By introducing edtech into the student-teacher relationship, 1:1 computing dramatically increases access to educational resources and creates opportunities for collaboration and real-time interaction.

St. Mary’s officials knew they’d need to find mobile computers durable enough to withstand the rigors of active learning spaces in and out of the classroom. The computers would also need to be easy for students and teachers to use, meet the learning community’s unique needs, and enable students to complete project based learning modules.

Our students learn best when they can interact with learning opportunities in the real world,” said Margaret Philips, the executive director of the Foundation for Deaf Education at St. Mary’s. “Working with students of all ages means that our equipment sees a lot of use—and young students sometimes need durable equipment.”

The Solution

In September 2015, Phillips met Natalie Terhaar, the community coordinator at National Grid, and took her on a tour of St. Mary’s.

Terhaar was impressed by what she saw and told Phillips about National Grid’s community giving initiatives, through which the company funds outreach, research, and learning programs that encourage students to study science, technology, engineering, and math. St. Mary’s received a $5,000 grant from National Grid.

“Natalie also told us about Bak USA and National Grid’s commitment to working with them,” Phillips said. “We were immediately interested. We feel strongly that it’s important to support our neighbors in the Buffalo community.”

The leadership team at St. Mary’s was intrigued and impressed by our mission, vision, and business practices. As a social enterprise, we believe that doing good and doing well aren’t mutually exclusive. We use our profits to fuel our mission to empower people and change lives by increasing access to technology and hiring people who are historically underrepresented in technology.

Bak USA’s business model provides support for individuals who have similar backgrounds as our students,” Phillips said. “We greatly value those efforts.”

Phillips gathered members of the St. Mary’s leadership team and brought them to our headquarters and product workshop for a tour with Ian Donnelly, a senior account executive on our business development team. Phillips also invited Donnelly to tour St. Mary’s.

“We decided that the Atlas 2-in-1 laptop from Bak USA would be a great addition for our students,” Phillips said. “In 2016, we were able to purchase 10 with the grant that we received from National Grid.”

The Atlas worked beautifully in classrooms at St. Mary’s. It’s durable, water-resistant, drop-resistant, and portable. It includes an active stylus so students can use digital inking technology to express themselves. And best of all, the Atlas is a 2-in-1 laptop with a touchscreen, so it works as a touchscreen laptop and folds back into a touchscreen tablet—a feature that allows students to interact with course material in a way that’s right for them.

In 2017, St. Mary’s again applied for a grant from National Grid and received another $5,000. They used the grant to purchase seven of our rugged Seal tablets.

“Our teachers researched the Seal and felt it would be perfect for learning,” Phillips said.

The Seal is a rugged touchscreen tablet that’s drop- and water-resistant, making it a perfect computer for use in outdoor spaces by active learners of all ages. It runs Windows 10, an operating system that students and teachers are familiar with, and includes an active stylus so students can use digital inking technology.

We love to let our students learn outside of the classroom,” said Cathie Gibbons, a middle-school math teacher at St. Mary’s. “The Seal lets them do that while still having access to the internet for research. I often ask students to document our experiences outside the classroom so that we can draw from them in the classroom. They love using the cameras on the Seal while they’re out on school trips.”

Teachers at St. Mary’s use project-based learning, a method which poses a question or problem to students that they can solve through collaboration. For one such project, sixth- and seventh-grade students in Gibbons’ class were tasked with designing a gymnasium that would meet the school’s needs and accommodate visual access for the deaf and hard of hearing. The students served as architects, conducting research and designing and building a scale model.

“The students were faced with a number of problems throughout this extensive project,” Gibbons said. “With the Seal, they had easy access to the answers— something that’s so beneficial for the flow of learning.”

Gibbons said the active stylus on the Seal was another benefit to her students.

“The stylus is easy to use and helps them navigate the tablet,” she said. “They’ve been exploring the Sketch Pad feature that comes with Windows 10 and have been using the stylus to bring their scale model ideas to life. The stylus allows them to add much more detail to their designs than they’re able to do using only their finger.”

Because some students at St. Mary’s face mobility challenges, staff and teachers at St. Mary’s felt the rugged Seal tablet would be perfect for their students.

“Now that we’ve got rugged tablets, we’re able to focus more on student learning and a little bit less on the safety of the computer,” Gibbons said. “The durability is essential for us because our students are active in the classroom and are often on field trips. Rugged tablets allow us to bring technology with us worry-free. The Seal is easy for students to use and great for schools.”

The Benefits

Ready to learn.
The Seal is a rugged tablet that’s water- and drop-resistant—perfect characteristics
for a computer that’ll see heavy use outdoors and in active learning spaces.

Includes an active stylus.
Using the Seal’s active stylus, students can bring their ideas to life, express
themselves with digital inking technology, and easily navigate programs and apps.

Runs Windows 10.
Students and teachers are familiar with Windows 10, enabling them to spend more
time learning and less time grappling with the learning curve. With built-in features
like Sketch Pad and thousands of compatible apps and programs, Windows 10
enhances student ability to interact with material in a way that’s right for them.