On a summer morning when some middle schoolers were sleeping in or headed to the beach, 12-year-old Ariana Rendona and two dozen other students were in a classroom at St. Luke Catholic School, using X-acto knives to slice up sheep brain. Behind goggles and lab coats, they took turns differentiating grey matter from white matter and cerebrum from cerebellum.
“Disgusting but fun,” Ariana said.
For she and other students at St. Luke, a PreK-8 school that serves a heavily Hispanic population in Palm Springs, Fla., science immersion has suddenly become a thing. Over the past 18 months, St. Luke has done what many schools, public and private, either can’t or won’t: make STEM a priority.
It added 20 minutes to the school day just for STEM, hired a STEM coordinator, invested in STEM-oriented professional development for the entire teaching staff and instituted a two-week STEM summer camp for students like Ariana. Much of this has been done in partnership with the new Center for STEM Education at Notre Dame, an outfit that has quickly and quietly launched several projects aimed at bolstering science instruction in Catholic schools and beyond.
The result: Engaged students. Happy parents. Another potential selling point for a private school in an increasingly competitive school choice market. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, a template and inspiration for other schools.
About three-fourths of the 170 students at St. Luke are minorities, and nearly 70 of them use the state’s tax credit scholarship program for low-income students. (The program is administered by non-profits like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.) For them, more exposure to high-quality STEM instruction is especially important, said Sue Sandelier, St. Luke’s principal, and Diann Bacchus, its science coordinator.
“Money is a struggle for many of the families here” but solid grounding in STEM can lead to high-paying careers for their children, said Bacchus, a longtime educator in both public and private schools. “I see it as their way out.”
St. Luke’s aims are notable for all kinds of reasons.