Lourdes Academy honored for STEM education

Oshkosh Catholic high school ranks in top 8% of all high schools

OSHKOSH — Lourdes Academy has received national honors recognizing its innovative and committed STEM education programming. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

In November, Newsweek announced its ranking of the country’s top 5,000 STEM high schools, the top 8% of all high schools nationally. Lourdes was listed at 3,372, higher than any other high school in the Oshkosh area.

Lourdes Academy High School Chemistry Club students Emily Holland, pointing, and Regan Kraus, goggles, take part in a laboratory experiment as part of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Knight activity. Trent Trofka and Aubrey  McDermott look on in the background. (Submitted Photo | For The Compass)

In addition, both Lourdes middle school and elementary school were named Project Lead the Way Distinguished Schools for its commitment to STEM learning. Only 148 middle schools and 214 elementary schools across the United States received this honor in 2019.

Lourdes partners with Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a nonprofit organization that provides resources for STEM education. It serves millions of PreK-12 students and teachers in schools across the United States.

“Helping students to become interested in and familiar with STEM principles is an important part of how our teachers are helping students prepare for the future, to identify their God-given talents, and discover how they can respond to God’s call for them,” said John Dinegan, Lourdes Academy System president.

STEM education has increasingly been a focus across the nation in recent years. STEM occupations are growing at nearly twice the rate of other occupations, and STEM workers are contributing to growth and stability of the U.S. economy, according to Dinegan.

Even for those students not going on to careers in those areas, there are benefits in learning critical thinking, teamwork, problem-solving, innovation and perseverance.

Five years ago, after local businesses began reporting the need for workers with STEM skills, Lourdes decided to address this need.

“We did it very intentionally,” said Karen Boehm, director of institutional advancement at Lourdes. “There were STEM skills businesses saying they were lacking. As a school system, that’s something we can provide.”

Lourdes said its STEM programming takes an interdisciplinary approach to learning, “which parallels real-world learning and provides students with essential skills for the 21st century.” Boehm said computer science and units in other STEM areas have been added to every grade level each year so that “every student from kindergarten through eighth grade would have access not just to the curriculum but also to learning by hands-on and problem solving.”

Barb Muza Reed, who teaches high school chemistry and college biology and chemistry, is also a graduate of Lourdes and appreciates continuing the excellent science reputation Lourdes has earned over the years. “It’s a great honor we have received these awards,” she said. “This is where Lourdes should be.”

Luke Spanbauer, second-grade teacher and the PLTW lead teacher, said, “Besides teaching regular curriculum standards, STEM learning teaches kids a lot of life skills. They have to learn how to adapt to different situations. They have to figure out what didn’t work and how to fix it. They learn to be OK with failing and to keep moving forward.”

Amy Geffers, Lourdes elementary principal, added, “There is a lot of teamwork and a lot of collaboration that goes into these projects. The students learn not to be critical of each other. They learn from little on that there is more than one way to find an answer.”

Age-appropriate projects can range from second-graders figuring out how to keep popsicles frozen as long as possible without refrigeration to high school students — and even alumni — running tests and monitoring nearby streams and reporting results at a symposium in Green Bay.

“It’s neat to see something they’re doing being used in real-life purposes,” said Carrie O’Connor, high school life science teacher. “The high school kids love the hands-on learning activities. They have to come up with their own procedures to answer questions. We, the teachers, become more like facilitators rather than telling them something. They become their own instructors. We’re there more as a guide.”

Boehm said there has been a lot of involvement from the business community. The STEM Partnership Team involves dozens of different businesses from a wide variety of areas, including aviation, sports, ministry, computer technology, entrepreneurial endeavors and manufacturing.

They helped get the program implemented, provided funding, showed the students what different business environments look like and contributed to a community-wide STEM night where the high school students do demonstrations.

Geffers said Lourdes made a big financial investment in its STEM programming and provided a lot of training for the teachers. But the great success Lourdes is experiencing is because of the teachers themselves. “The one thing we can’t teach is passion,” she said, “The teachers get the kids excited to learn.”