Cathedral School Puts STEM Grant to Work
October 20, 2017

ROCKFORD—Cathedral of St. Peter School is one of five Rockford-area schools that are set to receive multi-year grants to bring science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum to their classrooms this year.

The grants will provide training to teachers to help them prepare students for STEM-focused careers, where job growth is expected to be twice that of any other field.

St. Peter School is the only Rockford elementary school to receive a grant — the other four in Rockford are public high schools. In Illinois, 26 schools were awarded the grants.

The grants are part of Astellas USA Foundation’s Rural Spark Project which seeks to change STEM education in targeted rural areas for middle and high school students by supporting teacher training and exciting hands-on learning opportunities in the classroom and the community.

Project Lead The Way (PLTW), a national nonprofit organization that provides transformative educational experiences for K-12 students and teachers, is partnering with Astellas in this effort.

The $1 million in multi-year funding will support the implementation of 32 PLTW programs in 26 Illinois schools, including critical teacher training and turnkey curriculum that engages students in hands-on, real-world learning opportunities that help them develop essential, in-demand skills.

“We’ve been preparing for this since last school year,” says Principal James Burns. He explains that several teachers received two days to two weeks of training over the summer, some at the Milwaukee School of Engineering and some at the University of Chicago.

The “very hands-on curriculum” was begun at the beginning of this school year, he says. Middle school students (grades six-eight) have been doing design and modeling as part of the science curriculum, “aligned to the next generation science standards,” he says.

“From what I’ve heard from children and their parents is that they’re loving it,” he says. “It’s doing what we expected — getting children to think a little bit more.”

He describes one module where students studied parts of the hand, including the various bones. Presented with the problem of a broken bone, students figured out how to, and made, a cast. “You design something and put it into use,” Burns explains.

Upcoming modules will include automation and robotics, a study of energy, and lessons in coding as students do grids and games, he says, noting that the teachers are enjoying the teaching process and letting students explore and learn on their own as well.

Rockford has long been known for industry and the modules selected by the school are a good match with the major industries in the area, Burns says, mentioning Sundstrand-now-UTC and Woodward Governor. In a future year, plans are to offer modules within the medical field.

It will, he says, “introduce students to the variety of careers available in the area and what (skills are) needed for those careers.”