By Stephanie Brown
JACKSON – The Office of Education in the Diocese of Jackson has secured a $20,000 grant in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) -related training for teachers. The training will happen between now and December of 2019. This grant will automatically renew in 2020, providing and additional $20,000 worth of professional development workshops for teachers. The diocese is currently investigating additional funding opportunities for teaching supplies, meals and hotel accommodations for all participants. This work is aimed at removing all financial obstacles for teachers and individual schools, to ensure that they are able to focus solely on planning and executing exceptional lessons for their students.
Any type of research on current trends in education will lead to the terms “STEM,” “project based learning,” “creative problem solving” and “college and career readiness.” In fact, a recent market research study conducted by Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADIC) and National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), sought to explore what parents considered to be their top priorities when selecting a school for their children. According to the findings, the top three were encouraging individual and critical thinking, preparing children to successfully enter the job market, and preparing children for college. The staff of the Office of Education of the Diocese of Jackson hears this loud and clear, and is earnestly working to address all three of these areas and more.
There is no doubt that the trajectory of education has shifted away from straight rows of desks with pencil and paper to collaborative, noisy classrooms that are student-focused and interactive. Educators are now putting a stronger focus on how they equip our children to seamlessly integrate what they are learning with the world around them. While a number of terms or phrases can be used to describe this new style of teaching and learning, in Catholic education, STREAM, which stands for science, technology, religion, engineering, art, and mathematics is paving the way. This concept essentially takes the traditional model of STEM education and integrates it with the Catholic faith as well as the beauty and creative outlets of the arts.
In many ways, the ideals and objectives of STEM or STREAM initiatives are the same as the mission and goals of Catholic education. Catholic schools and educators recognize the dignity of each individual and value each child’s unique gifts and talents. Catholic educators understand it is their responsibility to help students further develop those gifts in service to God and their community. By utilizing the multi-sensory, hands-on teaching strategies of STREAM, diocesan schools give students a variety of outlets to deepen their knowledge, express themselves and most importantly acknowledge and even encourage the idea that there is not always one correct answer to a problem, especially in the real world for which these schools are preparing them.
While many schools have made strides toward a student-centered STREAM program, the Office of Education is now working to ensure that all schools are equipped with the resources and training they need to utilize this exciting and interactive way of teaching and learning. This effort includes two essential components: professional development and community connections.
Teachers need ongoing professional development to fully understand and implement the best practices that come with a STREAM program. In July 2019, the office of education plans to launch a STREAM Academy for educators from around the diocese. Plans for this programinclude an intensive multi-day summer training academy for a cohort of teachers, quarterly progress monitoring tools for implementing the strategies introduced in the summer and continued professional learning opportunities throughout the year on essential topics such as the engineering design process, project-based learning and many others.
The second component of an exceptional STREAM program is strong community relationships. One of the most essential components of a true STREAM program is the opportunity for students to apply their newly-acquired knowledge to real-life scenarios and make connections from what they are learning to the world around them. The Office of Education is in the process of constructing a small study of STEM professional organizations and companies as well as college and universities in this region to determine what skills they believe are most important for young graduates entering the workforce or the next level of education. Educators are also seeking to establish formal partnerships with STEM or STREAM -related organizations that would be willing to visit schools or host students on field trips to see what they are learning in action. Any company or educational institution interested in exploring the Partners in Education can contact Stephanie Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Catholic schools move forward in the 21st century, it is important that they remain true to the long-standing values of Catholic education – academic excellence, education of the whole child, and spiritual growth and formation for all-while also embracing new aspects of this ever changing world-the increased role of technology, instant global communication and higher-order thinking to address problems the world doesn’t yet know exist. Research indicates that students and graduates with strong backgrounds in STEM education will be the ones who shape the future and change the world, so why would Catholic schools not ensure that the added value of the R(eligion) and the A(rts) help shape the world for the better?
(Stephanie Brown is the Associate Superintendent for the Catholic Diocese of Jackson.)