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Gianna Schurk, left, and Isabella Johnston programmed their robot named CALI (Cool, Amazing, Lego Intelligent) Jan 29 at St. Joseph School in Imperial. With help from the Clavius Project at SLUH, the school started robotics last year.
Gianna Schurk, left, and Isabella Johnston programmed their robot named CALI (Cool, Amazing, Lego Intelligent) Jan 29 at St. Joseph School in Imperial. With help from the Clavius Project at SLUH, the school started robotics last year.

Excitement of robotics spreads

St. Joseph of Imperial leads the way, helps bring The Clavius Project to Jefferson County and beyond

Even though school had been dismissed for the day, the Makerspace and the science lab across the hall remained hubs of academic activity at St. Joseph School in Imperial, the sound of learning and enjoyment filling the air.

Working in teams of two — seven teams per room — and wearing matching blue T-shirts, the after-school robotics students discussed problems and solutions, revised computer programs on laptops and tested their high-tech creations, which were programmed to celebrate successes with an audio cheer: “Yay!”

And even if the Lego Mindstorms robots failed to exactly execute a task, whether stopping, starting, turning or transporting a bundle, no biggie: The teams just went back to the drawing board, reworked the programs, downloaded them into the robots and gave it another shot.

“It’s just trial and error,” seventh-grader Curtice Coleman explained. “If you try it and it fails, you just come back, work on it and go back and try it again.”

This is the second year for this type of problem-solving at St. Joseph, which is part of The Clavius Project through Saint Louis University High School. Since the 2014-15 school year, SLUH’s Robo-bills have been bringing robotics to middle school-age students in elementary schools throughout the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

“When they introduced the idea to us, I remember thinking, ‘That’ll be so much fun,’” eighth-grader Briana Maytas said. “I really wanted to do it and be a part of it.”

The program has not disappointed in the least.

Maytas and teammate Riley Cappozzo, and Coleman and teammate John Chapman are among 12 seventh- and eighth-graders returning for the second year of St. Joseph’s robotics program, which has doubled to 28 students from 14. Even St. Joseph alum John Halfmann has returned for year two, and he wasn’t even part of the inaugural team. Now a freshman at St. Pius X High School in Festus, Halfmann regularly comes back to St. Joseph as a mentor for his former schoolmates.

“It’s fun to get to interact with the kids, help them out and really be part the program; it’s a good program,” said Halfmann, whose brother Joe, a seventh grader, is on the robotics team.

If students get stuck, they can seek out Halfmann for help, or confer with teachers Heather Johnston, Sarah Staten or Christopher Almond. Johnston is the school’s technology coordinator and teaches computer classes throughout the curriculum.

“This is a really good opportunity,” Cappozzo said, succinctly.

The enthusiasm of St. Joseph’s robotics team members has been infectious, not only for classmates but also principal Sister Carol Sansone, ASCJ. After Sister Carol and pastor Father Daniel Shaughnessy brought The Clavius Project to St. Joseph in 2017, Sister Carol helped robotics spread to a half-dozen Catholic elementary schools in Jefferson County and beyond. Considering her longtime ministry in Catholic education, it was only natural for her to want to share the excitement, challenge and joy of robotics with other Festus/Ste. Genevieve Region schools

“I watched our kids get super-excited about it,” said Sister Carol. “To me these opportunities should be available to all kids whether you come from a small school or large school. Our schools might be small, but we believe in Catholic education. We should share a little bit more of our resources and our dreams so that we can help each other.”

Sister Carol broached the subject with principals of the schools in the area, who were on board with the mission. Then, she wrote a proposal for an innovation grant from the Roman Catholic Foundation of Eastern Missouri, which awarded $100,000 to the region’s schools to establish robotics. In a separate grant, the foundation awarded $53,000 to St. Pius to also start a robotics program and ultimately provide mentors to the region’s schools, much like SLUH and other Catholic high schools have done in St. Louis City and County with The Clavius Project.

St. Pius was to host a robotics jamboree on Feb. 2 for the regional schools. For now, with a year of robotics experience, St. Joseph will serve as the mentor, similar to an older sibling showing the way. Then, the entire team will participate later this month in SLUHs fourth annual jamboree.

St. Joseph competed last year at SLUH’s jamboree, which was “kind of scary at first,” Coleman said. “Then, we realized it’s not scary at all. We’re just competing against ourselves.”

And enjoying themselves.

“It’s cool,” sixth-grader Joe Nesselhauf said, simply.

>> The Clavius Project

Since the 2014-15 school year, The Clavius Project at Saint Louis University High has brought robotics to middle school-age students in elementary schools throughout the Archdiocese of St. Louis. After starting with nine schools, The Clavius Project now serves 44 elementary schools, with Catholic high schools such as De Smet Jesuit, Cor Jesu Academy, Rosati-Kain and Bishop DuBourg High School having helped as mentors.

For more information on the Clavius Project, contact Jeff Pitts at jeffpitts58@gmail.com

>> Who is Clavius?

The Clavius Project at SLUH takes its name from Jesuit Father Christopher Clavius, a renowned German mathematician who lived from 1537 to 1612. Clavius was a month shy of his 17th birthday when he entered the Society of Jesus in 1555 and was educated in Portugal at the Jesuit’s Coimbra university. He excelled in math at the university, then went to Rome and studied theology at Collegio Romano. He was ordained in 1564 and made final vows 11 years later. Except for a two-year stint in Naples, he taught for the rest of his life at the college in Rome.

Clavius wrote numerous mathematics textbooks, helped formulate the Gregorian calendar and was held in such high esteem that he was called the “the Euclid of the sixteenth century.” Though skeptical at first, he also confirmed the work of Galileo Galilei, whose observations with a telescope revealed the moons around Jupiter, the phases of Venus and the rough surface of the moon.

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