STEM Program Arrives at St. Francis de Sales

On Jan. 12, students of St. Francis de Sales quietly gathered in the school’s gymnasium. They weren’t preparing themselves for an awards ceremony or a guest speaker. Rather, curiosity and ingenuity united them; for they were the speakers, presenting their STEM findings, which focused on healthy eating.

STEM is an acronym that has gained much popularity amongst the educational community. It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Using this curriculum, children are presented the four pillars of STEM as an integrated unit, instead of as separate subjects taught in school. The students, working collaboratively, get the chance to address real-world topics and design potential solutions.

The opportunities which present themselves through a STEM program have excited the faculty and staff so much that they have renamed the school to St. Francis de Sales Catholic STEM School. This transition has been in progress over the past couple of years. Teachers have been attending in-services at The University of Denver and have invited speakers to come in from The University of Notre Dame to help prepare them for this undertaking.

The STEM approach encourages students to formulate questions, do research and present their findings, a method that allows for teamwork and critical thinking. (Photos by Andrew Wright)

The school’s principal, Sr. Mary Rose Lieb, O.S.F., spoke of the positive impact of a STEM program. “We need to prepare students to take a leadership role in our world,” she said. “I think these four areas mixed with who we are as a Catholic school, our traditions, our values. . . you mix those together it can’t be a better combination for getting our kids ready for the future.”

In the future, there will be more presentations like the one on Jan. 12. The students, working in groups, will address a school-wide question appropriate for grades pre-K through 8. Presenters will then showcase their findings in front of the student body. It gives an opportunity for the children to practice public speaking in order to become tomorrow’s leaders. Also, active listening is strongly encouraged. Following the presentations, students have the opportunity to use their laptops to answer questions about what they have learned. Both of these help to promote strong social skills within a global community.

The STEM Program combined with a Catholic education will prepare students to become virtuous, Catholic leaders in the world. (Photos by Andrew Wright)

The response to this student-centered approach has been well received throughout the community. STEM concepts have also been implemented in other subjects, encouraging students to formulate questions, research, and present their findings. One fifth grader asserted, “It’s fun because you get to work with other people and you get to learn how to construct a mechanism to show off your project.” Students have been enjoying working amongst different grade levels in their collaborations. These group clusters consist of pre-K, thenkindergarten-2nd grade, 3rd -5th grade, and 6th-8th grade.

This is an exciting time for Denver’s Catholic schools, for science is not a stranger within the Church. For example, The Vatican currently has an observatory in the deserts of Arizona. The Church has asserted that science and religion compliment, not contradict each other. The studies which will take place at St. Francis de Sales Catholic STEM School will not only focus on the scientific world, but how it points to the Creator of the world and the students’ roles within it.

COMING UP: Which Catholic school is right for your child?

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Which Catholic school is right for your child?

A look at some of the different Catholic elementary school models in Denver

Aaron Lambert

All this talk about school choice begs the question: What kinds of options are available to Catholic school students in Denver?

Quite a few, it turns out.

While the Office of Catholic Schools is working hard to determine where new Catholic high schools would best serve, parents of elementary-aged children through middle school have a wealth of options when it comes to giving their kids a Catholic education.

“It’s about getting parents choice for their kids’ education,” said Adam Dufault, assistant superintendent of Denver Catholic Schools. “Kids are all different, kids all don’t learn the same way. Within the Catholic school system, we want to create options.”

A handful of the 42 schools in the diocese, 37 directly overseen by the Office of Catholic Schools and five affiliated but run by various religious orders, adhere to specialized models of education that fall outside the traditional parochial school models, which contain their own rigorous curriculum and conform with archdiocesan standards. There are also a number of other unaffiliated Catholic schools which offer educational models that are just as valuable.

No matter which school a parent may choose to send their child to, one element remains a constant through each of them.

“The unifying force for all of these schools is the fact they’re all Catholic,” Dufault said. “That is a non-negotiable.”


The Archdiocese of Denver is currently home to two Classical academies: Our Lady of Lourdes in Denver and Frassati Catholic Academy in Thornton. Bishop Machebeuf High School is also considering implementing a Classical track in the near future.

The classical model dates back to as early as the 6th century and is built upon three primary pillars: grammar, logic and rhetoric. The study of Latin, art and music are integral to a classical education, and in the case of these two schools, faith is the foundation upon which the curriculum is built.

Our Lady of Lourdes’ enrollment has grown consistently since principal Rosemary Anderson switched the school to a classical model in 2011, and Frassati is currently in its first official year of operation.

Expeditionary Learning

Two schools in the archdiocese adhere to the expeditionary learning model of education: St. Rose of Lima and Annunciation schools in Denver.

EL schools focus on problem-based learning, and as the name suggests, encourages students to explore concepts themselves. For example, students embark on long-term “learning expeditions” in which they connect classroom learning to real world issues.

Another mantra of EL learning is encouraging high-quality work; teachers emphasize the importance to completing every assignment to the best of the student’s ability.

EL schools also invest in professional development for their teachers and leaders to keep them at the peak of their development as teaching professionals, which is of great benefit to the students as well.

For more information about expeditionary learning, visit


Escuela de Guadalupe is currently the only dual-language Catholic school in the archdiocese, but with an ever-increasing need for bilingualism, that number could very well increase.

Dual-language schools essentially teach students to learn in English and another language; in the case of Escuela, its students learn in both English and Spanish. Some classes are in English, others are in Spanish, and some switch languages between days.

“We know the benefits of kids who are bilingual; they test a little bit better, they can solve problems a little more creatively, and it’s good thing to have,” said Denver Catholic Schools superintendent Kevin Kijewski.

Visit for more information.


Sophia Montessori Academy is the first school of its kind in the Denver area.

The Montessori method has grown in popularity over the years with its emphasis in hands-on learning, but a Catholic Montessori school is a rarity.

“It’s very unusual for Denver to incorporate the Catholic faith in its fullness into a Montessori school,” said Pauline Meert, one of Sophia’s co-founders. “Montessori teachers in general do incorporate a spirituality aspect, but without actually naming the Lord and the saints. We wanted to be able to talk about God and the saints.”

Founded this year by Meert and Irene O’Brien, Sophia practices the Byzantine tradition of the faith, adding to its singularity. Mixed age groups are one of Montessori’s hallmarks, as is the hands-on approach.

“It’s following Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas’ observations that nothing enters the mind that does not first come through the senses,” Meert said.

It also acknowledges that children learn in different ways, and therefore should be taught according to their needs.

“Putting the child first is the basic tagline of the Montessori approach,” O’Brien said. “If children learn and grow in specific ways, then teach them in a specific way.”

Visit to learn more about the Montessori method.


S.T.E.M. is a model that places emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It was developed in response to the growing fields of engineering and technology in the modern age to help equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in those fields.

While there are presently no S.T.E.M. schools in the archdiocese, a few schools have integrated S.T.E.M. elements into their classrooms, including Sts. Peter and Paul and Blessed Sacrament. Furthermore, three schools within the archdiocese are discerning the implementation a S.T.E.M. program.


If a parent would rather homeschool their child in a Catholic environment, there are resources to assist with that, too.

Groups such as the Denver Area Catholic Home Educators offer support and encouragement to local Catholic homeschool families and help connect homeschooling communities to groups closer to their geographic area. They help run cooperatives and programs at various parishes and homes.

Additionally, yearly home educators’ conferences such as the Rocky Mountain Catholic Home Educators Conference and the IHM Colorado Homeschool Conferences are designed to help parents who double as their children’s teachers develop their skills and learn best practices of being your child’s academic educator.

Mary Machado, the Metro area coordinator for the Denver Area Catholic Home Educators, has been homeschooling for over 19 years. The benefits of homeschooling are numerous and quite varied, she said, but homeschooling brings with it a unique kind of virtue formation.

“[Homeschooling is] challenging; it’s countercultural in a lot of ways, but there’s some real benefits of the family dynamic being together, facing that and growing in virtue together,” Machado said.

Shandra Emrich, a parishioner of Holy Name Parish, described being a homeschooling parent as a “total gift of self, poured out as a libation in service to the soul God has entrusted to us.”

Featured image by Andrew Wright