STEM project connects St. Pat’s students with parish and world

By Laura Dobson

Special to The Witness

CEDAR FALLS — Teacher Pam Schmitt began with a prayer, a calmness fell over the excited group of students, and visitors began to enter the gym. On Thursday, March 9, grade seven and eight students from St. Patrick Catholic School in Cedar Falls presented the results of their A World in Motion (AWIM) project in the parish gym.

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The students had been working in two- to four-person teams under the direction of teachers and industry volunteers who joined them in the classroom over an eight-week period. The interdisciplinary approach, the soft skills the students honed during the project, and connections made with the parish and real world are just as critical as the scientific concepts learned.

Science teacher Pam Schmitt is the driving force behind the project.

“It works so well in our school, because the teachers I work with are so flexible. We collaborate and can adapt our schedule to allow for work time in other subject areas, including, art, language arts, social studies, technology and speech. The project is truly cross curricular with all of these subject areas infused throughout the unit, and teachers overseeing their emphasis areas.”

Parishioner Bark Lyman-Kluck, who served on a panel students presented to at the March 9 exhibition, observes that the skills used during “AWIM transcend what a text book can supply. The students have first hand, real world experience with design, data analysis, trial and error; marketing to understand consumer demands; and putting the best foot forward when meeting the public. Perhaps the toughest skills students experienced during AWIM were working with a group to overcome challenges, making decisions and presenting their best work as well as meeting a deadline.”

The students also recognize the many benefits. Seventh-grader Isabel Busch remarked on the project’s tie in with the school’s The Leader in Me program. She explained that, “in an extensive project with so many things to do, one person doesn’t have to be the leader. You can all lead together.”

With The Leader in Me, students learn to apply author Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people. Habits include being proactive, putting first things first and synergizing.

“Working together is a lifelong skill,” notes eighth-­grader Faith Magee. “When we grow up it is an important thing to know how to do.”

With the program in its 20th year, many families have noted the long-term benefits.

“This is real-world experience that preps them for the job market,” summarizes Michelle Buchanan whose fourth child was involved this year. “It is a way for them to use their skills in many different subjects in one project.”

Charlie Kluck, a parishioner who has volunteered with the program since his grown children were students at St. Patrick, believes that AWIM provides the students with a very meaningful connection between community, church and school.

“Bringing in trained professionals, many of whom the students recognize or then see at Mass, helps them make a connection from Catholic school way forward into the future.”

Newer volunteers are equally as impressed and realize that the ability to offer a project like this for all students during the school day is extraordinary.

Engineer Matt Biederwolf, in his ­second year of volunteering, says that “the fact that St. Patrick offers a project like A World in Motion is fantastic. You can’t offer a program like this everywhere.”

Lyman-Kluck congratulated Schmitt “on 20 years of bringing students, teachers and industry professionals together to help St. Patrick students meet the challenges of the future through AWIM.”

She noted that Schmitt “has been educating students in STEM before the term became popular!”

Dobson is marketing coordinator for St. Patrick School in Cedar Falls.

PHOTO: The St. Patrick School teams presented their STEM project results to industry volunteers, parents and younger students in the parish gym as the culmination of an eight-week project. (Contributed photo)

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