Catholic School principal starts early, stays diligent on transformative full-tech journey.

GUEST COLUMN | by Monica Haldiman

CREDIT Sacred Heart Roslindale Verizon.pngImagine you’re in a classroom, but instead of children sitting quietly at their desks, they are testing a model bridge built from pasta and glue.

The teacher hands out paper for the students to use to take notes; paper they made themselves.

And in a room down the hall, pre-K students are learning rudimentary coding skills.

The school’s leadership worked with community and tech partners to develop a three-year strategy using pedagogical teaching techniques.

This educational environment prepares students for the jobs they’ll hold in 15 to 20 years – highly skilled technology jobs that don’t yet exist.

In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that by 2020, 77 percent of all U.S. jobs will require computer skills. This percentage will only increase – a troubling statistic when mastering technology skills isn’t a requirement in most schools.

Five years ago, Sacred Heart School embarked on a mission to modify its strategic approach to prepare students (or as we call them, scholars) for the 21st century workforce by directly integrating technology into the curriculum. Today, we are known for our K-8 full STREAM focus. STREAM is an initiative to promote science, technology, religion, engineering, the arts and math in Catholic schools.

Scholars have already shown improved confidence, creativity, and support for each other. They understand that it is okay to fail, but instead of walking away, are taught how to analyze the problem differently and try again. Most importantly, it puts our scholars on a level playing field to pursue the educational and career-focused opportunities they want.

More schools are now considering this model. For those that decide to transition to a full STREAM-tech curriculum, take a moment to reflect on Sacred Heart’s journey to STREAM, the obstacles and programmatic issues faced, and my recommendations for an effective program.

The Path to STREAM

Sacred Heart’s journey to become a full-tech school was deliberate. Once the decision was made to transition to a STREAM school, new computers, iPads, and smart boards were ordered for every classroom and Internet connections installed.

The school’s leadership worked with community and tech partners to develop a three-year strategy using pedagogical teaching techniques.

At the start, each teacher was required to integrate only one technology-focused course.

The classrooms today are significantly different.

For at least half of the school day, scholars are using technology or engaged in technology training; most textbooks are online, experimentation in class is encouraged, scientists visit on a bi-weekly basis, and 3D printers help learning come to life.

We continue to work with professional developers to review and revise our path forward, train teachers, and address issues or concerns.

Overcoming Obstacles

With all growth and change come challenges, and our story is no different.

Shortly after transitioning to the full-tech model and installing new technologies, slow and unreliable Internet connections limited teachers’ ability to effectively use them in the classroom.

The school experienced delays and network issues that disrupted classes and halted online testing. After months of network challenges, we installed a fiber optic network, Verizon Fios, throughout the buildings, which helped improve internet speeds and reliability.

Lessons Learned

With each obstacle, we have also learned lessons that other K-8 schools might find useful. Consider these recommendations if and when you plan to integrate a full tech-focused STEAM or STREAM curriculum.

  1. Listen to your scholars. This curriculum is designed to set scholars up for the best success in their future careers. Watch them learn. Share growth with their parents. Hear their perspectives change, and encourage their curiosity.
  2. Encourage teac Understand that a shift to a full STREAM tech-focused curriculum is a significant change for several educators. Training and support for teachers to help guide them through the process – and what’s expected of them – will go a long way.
  3. Be patient. The transition to a STREAM tech-focused curriculum could take anywhere from three to six years to complete. Once your new technologies arrive, take time to learn about them and understand how to utilize them best. Slow and steady progress is important.
  4. Invest in your network. The technologies you purchase are only as good as the network that allows them to work. A STREAM tech-focused curriculum only works if the technology can effectively be used.
  5. Budget strategically. The technologies needed to support a full-tech curriculum come with a hefty price tag. Think strategically about how and when to use funds to best meet your school’s goals.

Many of our former scholars continued on to STREAM tech-focused high schools after leaving Sacred Heart, and while our first class of STREAM scholars will enter college in the fall of 2018, we expect several of them to continue their studies in this field.

It is great progress for us, but those at Sacred Heart make up a small percentage of the 35.6 million students in pre-K to 8th grade across the country.

These are our future world leaders, so consider a STEAM or STREAM program in your community.

Let’s set them up for success.

Monica Haldiman, a native of Brooklyn NY, is currently the Principal of Sacred Heart School, in Roslindale MA. She received her undergraduate degree from St. Anslem College and a Masters in Education from Boston College. Monica began her career as a middle school science teacher before moving on to administration as the vice principal of Sacred Heart School in 1993. In 2009, she stepped into the role of principal. In 2011, Monica became a Lynch Fellow when she became a member of the first cohort of the Lynch Leadership Academy. She is a member of the Boston Compact Committee as well as a former adjunct professor at Boston College’s School of Education.