School Awarded Grant To Fund STEM-Focused Curriculum Activities

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St. John the Evangelist School was a recent recipient of a $4,925 grant from the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA), which will be used to purchase WeDo 2.0 and Sphero bots for young STEM students.

Students are already learning coding, but WeDo 2.0 introduces them to coding that causes something to happen in the real world, and 2019 marked the eighth year that SJES received this grant.

Jerry Schepers, an executive vice president at Praxis Engineering, approached SJES math and science teacher Kristen Zorica nine years ago about a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) grant offered by AFCEA, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to providing an ethical, interactive forum for sharing knowledge and building relationships across government, military, industry and academia,” according to its website. Through their fundraising efforts, the organization provides scholarships to students and grants to teachers to further STEM education.

As an engineering industry leader, Schepers had long since believed in the benefit of a STEM-focused curriculum, and wanted to assist SJES, where his own children attended, in developing a robust STEM program for students in both the elementary and middle school grades.

“Jerry approached me about writing a STEM grant proposal, and he’s been supporting us every year since in this endeavor,” said Zorica. “To date, St. John the Evangelist has received more than $40,000 in the eight years that we’ve applied.”

Previous grants funded STEM activities and after-school clubs for students in grades six through eight. The majority of the latest grant will be used to enhance the STEM curriculum for students in grades two through five.

SJES students look at STEM not just from using technology themselves to solve problems but also STEM’s impact on the world.

“There is a tremendous range of future careers for our students that deal with STEM,” said Zorica. “I am also excited that we are now adding A, which is for Art. A large portion of the grant money will be used for robotics.”

While the students love learning the mechanics and engineering behind Lego robotics, drones, spheros and block programming autonomous robots, students are also learning teamwork, which is a core value at St. John the Evangelist.

“Computers don’t do anything that people haven’t told them to do,” said Zorica. “The students are writing the coding that makes the robots move. Every action they take in the programming of the robot causes a reaction in the robot. Students need to learn patience and how to work together.

We have many very smart and highly independent students, and having to learn to collaborate can come slowly, but it transforms them,” added Zorica. “Students get to the point where they realize they will accomplish more when they work together, and so that has always been the most dramatic thing I see in students. They learn a lot about programming and engineering, but STEM transforms them as people.”

Many St. John students go on to STEM programs in high school.

“I am in awe of the program we have at St. John. I have learned so much, too,” added Zorica. “It’s so awesome to go to competitions and see them work together. They do some things right, and some things don’t work, but together they are a team.”

St. John the Evangelist middle school students participate in the First Lego League and Catholic Robotics League competitions.

“We are grateful for the vision of AFCEA and their impact on our students’ learning,” said Casey Buckstaff, principal at SJES. “Because of their generosity and vision, we have been able to integrate access to outstanding technology and programming for our St. John students.”

St. John the Evangelist School will hold an open house on January 29. To see how St. John the Evangelist School merges faith, technology and academics to cultivate good citizens and future leaders, contact Lynne Fish at 410-647-2283 or lfish@stjohnsp.org.

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