LAKE FOREST — Fourth through eighth graders at the School of St. Mary have a bunch of new teachers — each other.
Working in pairs, the students are developing their creativity and critical thinking skills in the school’s new STEAM lab developing video games, robots and more, according to Principal Venette Biancalana. (STEAM stands for (science, technology, engineering, art and math.)
Though the children have been using the facility since January, the Editha Kapoor STEAM Lab was dedicated and blessed April 27 during a ceremony with more than 50 people at the school in Lake Forest. Students shared their experiences with the adults there for the event.
Fourth graders Kyle Camardo and Sophia Linhardt were busy creating a video game after Father Michael McGovern, the St. Mary Parish pastor, blessed the lab. Camardo was more the teacher this time since Linhardt said it was her first time designing a game.
“He is showing me what to do and I am doing some of it,” Linhardt said.
“We’re designing it to drive a car into the hut we’re building,” Camardo added.
Though neither Camardo nor Linhardt said they planned to market the game they were creating, Biancalana said one of the reasons for building the lab at the school was to use 21st century learning to start preparing youngsters for jobs they may encounter one day.
“This is something our students will take with them into the future,” Biancalana said. “It’s important because they are experiencing things which could be their work one day.”
During the ceremony Collin Blocki, another fourth grader, told the group of parents, clergy and community members how much he enjoyed building electric circuits using a lab computer and other materials.
“It snaps together,” Blocki said. “You watch it work and it’s really cool.”
Not long after he told the adults at the ceremony about his engineering efforts, Blocki was busy snapping those circuits together with classmate Mary Claire Vlies. She said she liked the hands-on effort learning with Blocki as a different experience from book learning with a teacher.
“It’s fun to be able to be the teacher,” Vlies said. “If we have a problem we have to solve it together before we go to her. It’s the way they like us to do it.”
The teacher in this case is Kristina Madsen, a fourth grade instructor. She said she and her colleagues got a week of training before the lab was operational. She said the collaboration between children is part of contemporary education.
“It empowers them and it’s fun for them,” Madsen said. “They’re learning to use all their modalities, visual and more. They use all their senses.”
Not to be confused with a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lab, Biancalana said the art component is key to the entire experience. She said surgeons need the artistic piece when stitching patients.
Two other fourth graders, Lily Stegemann and Erin O’Connor, were busy using the artistic element, enhancing a picture of a dog on a computer. They started with other animals, including a unicorn, before settling on a canine subject.
“We looked up all kinds of animals before we decided on this one,” O’Connor said.
“We photo shopped it,” Stegemann added.
There was serious time too during the ceremony. Before touring the lab, Blocki was joined by Abby Pace (fifth grade), Abby Cichocki (sixth grade), John Rosinski (seventh grade) and Michaela DiVito (eighth grade) telling the group about their experiences in the lab.
The crowd then went from the library to the lab where McGovern and Bishop George Rassas, a former St. Mary’s pastor, led a short service blessing the lab.
Biancalana said next year the school will hire a full time STEAM teacher and the lab use will increase. She said seventh and eighth graders will go three times a week, fifth and sixth grade students twice and the fourth graders will get a trip a week.
The lab was named for the late Editha Kapoor whose four children went to the school, according to Michelle Tambi, a family friend. The Kapoor family has been a generous donors to the school, according to McGovern.