Eclipse offers unique educational opportunity for STEAM students


MIDDLETOWN — One of the aims of Catholic education is to foster a deeper appreciation for the beauty of God’s creation. This is no more on display than at All Saints Academy in Middletown.
During the solar eclipse of April 8, teachers, administrators and volunteers led the students in a series of science experiments in which they studied the effects of the eclipse on radio waves. A ham radio was set up by Michael Cullen, a parent of an All Saints alumnus and lifelong ham radio enthusiast, which regularly sent out signals both immediately before and during the eclipse, to demonstrate the effects of solar radiation on radio waves. These experiments are a part of a series of experiments coordinated by NASA, the University of Scranton and a series of other research organizations attempting to study the effects of eclipses on large-scale communication.
For many who are either associated or acquainted with the mission of All Saints Academy, the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) program’s integrated approach to teaching and its emphasis on contextualizing science and technology in a relatable framework compliments the school’s spiritual mission.
Such is the view of Father John Codega, pastor of St. Lucy’s Parish in Middletown.
Father Codega sees events like those taking place during the eclipse as inculcating in the students an understanding of the Catholic view on creation.
“I think about, with the eclipse in general, how everyone is amazed with the astronomy, if you will. But as a faith-based school, it’s a part of creation, too,” Father Codega said.
The students said how the day’s events made a positive impact on their education and solidified their passion for science.
“It’s a very entertaining day. Lots of fun activities,” said eighth grader Hailey Dunn. “Personally I really love science. It’s my favorite subject. So, being able to do a bunch of different experiments is definitely a bonus.”
“I was very excited, because the moon is probably my favorite space object,” added Dunn, who has an interest in studying space science.
Rose Morissey described the activities in a similar way, saying they were “very entertaining and enriching.”
“They [the teachers and faculty] make sure to incorporate everything they can and they prepare us well. What they do is amazing,” she continued.
“I just really love the reaction of the kids,” said Beth Cullen, wife of Michael Cullen. “It’s something they’ll always remember.”
All Saints Academy is one of only a small handful of schools in the state to participate in the STEAM, a program meant to familiarize children with the natural sciences and technological literacy.
Yet, the STEAM program differs by framing scientific study within an understanding of the arts and humanities.
The two individuals most influential in bringing the STEAM program to All Saints Academy were Cullen and his wife Beth. The basic concept behind the STEAM program was developed by group of professors and scholars in Virginia. It was popularized in Rhode Island by John Maeada, then-president of RISD, starting in 2010.
In 2014, the Cullens’ son, Mac, transferred to All Saints Academy, where Tom Kowalczyk helped develop his interest in technology.
Kowalczyk, a graduate of MIT, promoted technological literacy at the school, was involved with events at the school promoting technological literacy, and piqued Mac’s interest in computer programing — later leading him to study computer science at the US Naval Academy.
STEAM takes a holistic approach to education, helping students understand deep connections that exist between different areas of study.
The STEAM program also instills a sense of civic duty into the students, teaching children how to discern the ethical implications of technology and how to use technology in a socially beneficial manner.
For example, students participated in RAICA (Responsible AI for Computational Action), which teaches youth how to develop AI-based technology for socially beneficial ends. Similarly, All Saints Academy has worked with CyberPatriot, a program that seeks to acquaint students with cybersecurity technology.
“It’s not just in siloes. [Students ask], ‘Why do I need to know this?’ [and teachers often respond] ‘Just do the worksheet. Don’t ask questions’,” said Ann Villareal, co-principal of All Saints Academy. “It’s the integration. It tells kids why they need to know it.”
“Without the ‘A’ [arts], the sciences, technology, engineering and math are just boring, hard science, just classes that some kids are really good at and most aren’t. But when you incorporate the ‘A’, the reason why you’re doing it, why the world needs mathematicians and scientists and technicians, it makes more sense, especially to young kids. It’s really good for K-8,” Beth Cullen noted.