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 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 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.