St. Luke joins fraternity of Catholic schools certified in STEAM education

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BARRINGTON — St. Luke School has become the fourth Catholic school in the diocese to earn recognition as a STEAM certified school, a distinction that builds upon the success of a curriculum rooted in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics by factoring Art into the equation.

The entire St. Luke School community has been working with Roger Williams University and RWU Continuing Education instructor Tom Pilecki, an expert in the field, for almost three years in order to qualify for this certification.

A certification ceremony was held in the St. Luke School gymnasium on Oct. 23, following a morning Mass offered by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin at the adjacent St. Luke Church. During his homily, Bishop Tobin said that this day was possible because of the blessings that the St. Luke community had received from God.

“You’re building a strong foundation for the rest of your life,” Bishop Tobin told the students of the education they are receiving at St. Luke, especially with the school’s decision to strengthen its degree of success exponentially by adding religion to the equation, enhancing its educational philosophy from STEAM to STREAM.

Neil Kiely, director of Institutional Advancement at St. Luke School, opened the ceremony at the school by paying tribute to the leadership of immediate past principal Patricia Bartel, whom he said “drove the bus” over nearly the course of three years to help St. Luke School earn STEAM certification.

He said it was fitting for her to be the one to receive the certification from Roger Williams on behalf of all the hard work invested by the staff during that time to make the occasion a milestone day for the school.

“A lot of people have put in an awful lot of time for us to get this distinction and this honor,” Kiely said.

“This is a big, big, deal…We are entering a small, very tight-knit fraternity of Catholic schools in Rhode Island that have achieved this status.”

The principals and some staff members representing the other STEAM certified Catholic schools — St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket, St. Thomas Regional School in Providence and All Saints Academy in Middletown — were in attendance as St. Luke School entered this fraternity.

Father TJ Varghese, pastor of St. Luke Parish, offered a blessing for all who gathered.

“Loving God, we ask your blessing upon these students who we honor this morning for their achievement, especially the STEAM (certification), their capacity for creativity, for critical thinking and for a focused effort,” he prayed.

“We are grateful for these students and their families who entrust them to St. Luke’s faculty and staff, to engage them intellectually, morally and spiritually. Thank you for giving them the confidence to explore new possibilities and to acknowledge and discern what is right, good and just. Enable them to draw upon the wisdom and experience of yesterday, as they respond to the questions and concerns of tomorrow. Bless our students as they continue to make a difference in our society, in our church, in our St. Luke School and in the world, that they lead a life for the greater glory of God. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Jack Rezendes, interim St. Luke principal, paid tribute to staff and students who have embraced the new approach to learning that has led to their success.

“School innovation takes leadership and dedication,” he said.

“This is no small accomplishment and the entire faculty, administration and student body should be pleased and proud of this singular recognition.”

He credited author Roger Williams University’s Pilecki, a veteran arts educator who teamed up with author David Sousa to write the book “From STEM to STEAM,” which celebrates the advantage gained by students when the arts are integrated into a dedicated Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curriculum by showing how arts activities enhance creativity, problem solving, memory systems and analytical skills.

“When Tom looked at national efforts, like No Child Left Behind, or Common Core or STEM, he saw slow, and in some cases, no progress to improve test scores, or more importantly, to improve learning. He recognized that’s what art does for science, technology and mathematics,” Rezendes said.

Pilecki said that although he travels the country promoting STEAM education initiatives, he thoroughly enjoyed working — practically in his backyard — with the St. Luke School community, which enthusiastically embraced the program and completed everything that he asked them to do.

“There is no question that Catholic education is where real stuff can happen. We get work done,” he said. “Every single one of the experiments and projects that you guys did are very important.”

Dan Ferris, diocesan superintendent of schools, told the gathering that St. Luke is a school of great distinction, in a class all their own.

“You will not find this type of education around the corner or down the street. It is truly exceptional. You should be very proud of yourselves,” Ferris said.

Gena Bianco, dean of University College at Roger Williams University, which promotes STEAM education and works with schools to achieve certification, presented the certificate of completion to former principal Bartel, who accepted the honor on behalf of St. Luke School.

“One of the goals at Roger Williams University is to work with partners to create high quality, affordable, flexible programs that build off of our expertise to meet community, student or organizational needs,” Bianco said.

“We’re constantly thinking not just about what we teach, but how we teach. This program exemplifies that practice. We want each and every one of you to reach your highest potential and to achieve your highest dreams after you graduate,” she told the students.

In accepting the certificate, Bartel praised the hard work and dedication of the staff who made the day a reality.

“This award goes to the faculty and staff here at St. Luke’s who worked so hard planning lessons and enrichment programs. I am so thankful for their dedication,” Bartel said, before calling all teachers and staff forward to gather around the podium to a round of applause for them and for the students as well.