Newest Catholic school takes innovative learning approach

| January 29, 2015 | 0 Comments
At Frassati Catholic Academy in White Bear Lake, the archdiocese’s newest Catholic school, a STREAM curriculum engages students, including third-grader Christopher Wicks in hands-on learning that touches on multiple subject areas.  Photo courtesy Frassati Catholic Academy

At Frassati Catholic Academy in White Bear Lake, the archdiocese’s newest Catholic school, a STREAM curriculum engages students, including third-grader Christopher Wicks in hands-on learning that touches on multiple subject areas. Photo courtesy Frassati Catholic Academy

Third-graders dumped sandwich bags filled with small items on desks and carpeting in Rheanna Raymond’s classroom, and quickly got to work in teams to identify which of the items were magnetic, and which were not.

After making their observations, they wrote down their findings, then — being third-graders — played a bit, making chains of paperclips, nails and washers linked together via magnetism.

It’s typical of the STREAM educational approach — science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math — that is basic at Frassati Catholic Academy in White Bear Lake, the newest Catholic school in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Pupils aren’t just learning a science concept, they’re also learning how to conduct research and express themselves on paper. Though they don’t know it yet, they’ll also soon learn engineering while building shoebox houses with magnets and lights.

Raymond appreciates the STREAM approach.

“I spend a lot less time feeding them information and more time helping them find the information for themselves,” she said.

“We do a lot more hands-on activities and a lot more critical thinking,” she added. “The learning is more realistic, and it sticks with them better.”

Adopting the STREAM curriculum was a crucial component in the creation of Frassati, a regional Catholic school serving the White Bear Lake area and its two parishes, St. Mary of the Lake and St. Pius X.

An earlier collaborative effort between St. Pius and St. Mary —Holy Family Middle School — began in the mid-1990s, but by 2003 each of the parishes was back operating its own K-8 school.

The schools closed in June 2014; Frassati opened last fall on St. Mary’s former campus. Frassati principal Patrick Gallivan is confident this effort will be successful.

Frassati Catholic Academy’s namesake

BlessedPierGiorgioFrassatiBlessed Pier Giorgio Frassati is a saint for the modern world, and especially for young people.

Born in 1901 in Turin, Italy, Pier Giorgio was a model of virtue, a “man of the beatitudes,” as Pope John Paul II called him at the his beatification ceremony.

Pier Giorgio lived his faith through his constant, humble, mostly hidden service to the poorest of Turin. He lived simply and gave away food, money, or anything that anyone asked.

Pier Giorgio died from polio on July 4, 1925. His parents, who had no idea about the generous self-donation of their young son, were astonished by the sight of thousands of people crowded outside their mansion on the day of their son’s funeral Mass and burial. The poor, the lonely, and those who had been touched by Pier Giorgio’s love and faithful example had come to pay homage to this model of Christian living.

Pier Giorgio’s mortal remains were found incorrupt in 1981 and were transferred from the family tomb in the cemetery of Pollone to the Cathedral of Turin.

His feast day is July 4.

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“It’s going to work because we didn’t merge two schools and parishes,” he said. “We created a new identity and academic program that has the support of both parishes and schools.”

At 265 pupils, enrollment exceeded his expectations.

Gallivan is an advocate of STREAM’s interconnective learning approach, pointing to “Three Billy Goat’s Gruff” — the fairy tale involving crossing a bridge — as a simple example of how it works.

“When students are doing a unit on fables and fairy tales they are working on literacy, and they move right into science and engineering by learning about building bridges,” he explained. “They don’t learn the literature lesson in the fall and then the engineering lesson in the spring.”

The school applies the same approach to teaching religion, STREAM’s “R.”  Through a partnership with the White Bear Center for the Arts, the school brought an iconographer to campus. “Faith in a Catholic school should be taught throughout the day, not just in religion class,” Gallivan said.

Frassati’s other partners are the GHR Foundation and St. Catherine University.

Frassati’s staff works with faculty from St. Kate’s and has taken demanding graduate courses in chemistry and engineering.

STREAM requires a new way of thinking and approaching material, a new way of working with one another, and making sure one another stays the course, said Patty Born-Selly, the executive director of the National Center for STEM Elementary Education at St. Kate’s.

She said she was impressed by the way Frassati teachers and staff have worked to develop and implement a shared vision for the curriculum.

“The work the whole school community is doing together to develop their STREAM school is amazing and so meaningful,” she said.

GHR Foundation enabled Frassati’s entire faculty and its principal to take graduate level courses at St. Catherine. The funds will also pay for consultations, equipment and important evaluations.

Students’ classroom engagement indicates the new approach is going well. Raymond said she loves the enthusiasm the STREAM curriculum evokes from her students, even though she had to take graduate classes last summer to prepare to teach it.

“It was tough going to class in the summer,” Raymond said, as smiling children dangled magnetic items in chains for her approval, “but absolutely worth it.”

The National Center for STEM Elementary Education is also working with St. Joseph School in Waconia and will be working with Sacred Heart in Robbinsdale beginning this spring.

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