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From coding to virtual reality, North County schools share technology resources to enhance education

Shared technology library funded by Beyond Sunday grant

Nolan Catron and John Henry Reft pressed several buttons on an electronic mouse, corresponding to their pattern. The first-graders at St. Ann School in Normandy intently watched as their mouse attempted to make the same pattern that they made with their cards.

“Forward, forward, forward, turn — uh oh, is that what you wanted it to do?” teacher Cheryl Thomas asked her students.

“He went off track!” Nolan exclaimed.

Cheryl Thomas worked with first-graders Nala Hartmann and Ava Acklin using a Code and Go Robot Mouse at St. Ann School in Normandy Jan. 13.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston
These students are learning the basics of computer coding through play, via a Code and Go Robot Mouse. Several of the electronic devices were added to a new shared technology library, which is being shared among the North County Federation of Catholic Schools, which includes seven Catholic elementary schools.

A $50,000 Beyond Sunday grant was awarded to the federation for the shared technology library. This is the third grant from the Roman Catholic Foundation of Eastern Missouri, representing a total of $200,000 awarded to schools in the federation. Other grants have gone toward Chromebooks as well as a diversity and inclusion initiative.

The library currently includes items such as Little Bits circuit kits, Code and Go Robot Mice, Makey Makey invention kits, virtual reality goggles, portable green screen kits, iPads, and access to Catholic Brain, a faith-formation resource. Other items will be added to the library over time.

Thomas, an integrated arts teacher at St. Ann School, said that technology is integrated into education from an early age. “Anytime you can get kids to be active in what they’re learning, they’re going to remember it better,” she said. “They’re going to be excited about it and want to learn more about it.”

Thomas starts the hands-on lessons with a directional approach. “I say, ‘I’m the person and you’re the computer. I am going to tell you what to do and program you.’ It’s first that personal experience of it, then you move on to the visual. They see how something worked, how it didn’t work, what I need to do to change it.”

The shared technology lab is the latest example of the federation’s work to collaborate among the 15 parishes in the North County Deanery, which includes seven elementary schools, one high school and seven Parish Schools of Religion, to share resources for the advancement of academic and faith formation of students. The federation marked its 10th anniversary in 2020.

“When you look back and see all of the things we have been able to do … it’s been really good,” said Cara Koen, the federation’s director of advancement. “Principals who come here from other areas of the archdiocese comment how happy they are to be connected with other schools in this way, as it helps with their ministry. If nothing else, we have broken down most of the parochialism that can exist in Catholic schools. We want as many kids in North County as possible to have access to a quality, Catholic education.”

Other ways in which schools have worked together is through the formation of professional learning teams, which encourages professional development opportunities. Teachers are grouped together by grade level or specialty to discuss best practices and share resources. Schools also have shared resources in other ways, such as combined deanery-wide sacramental retreats, faculty retreats, art exhibits and music festivals and parent resources.

Schools have partnered with local entities including SSM Health DePaul Hospital in Bridgeton for the CatholicFIT exercise and health education program, which helps students link faith and fitness; the St. Louis School Business Partnership, which focuses on preparing students to be college and career-ready; and other organizations such as North County Inc. and Greater North County Chamber.

>> North County Federation

The Federation of Catholic Schools in North County formed in 2010 as a gateway to increasing the viability, affordability and accessibility of quality Catholic education in North St. Louis County. The federation includes 15 parishes in the North County Deanery, which includes seven elementary schools, one high school and seven Parish Schools of Religion. The federation facilitates collaboration, using resources and reducing competition among schools for funding and enrollment.

Member schools include All Saints Academy (includes St. Ferdinand, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne and St. Norbert campuses in Florissant); Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Ferguson, Sacred Heart in Florissant, St. Ann in Normandy and Trinity Catholic High School in North St. Louis County. Parish Schools of Religion are located All Souls in Overland, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sacred Heart, St. Martin De Porres in Hazelwood, St. Norbert and St. Sabina in Florissant.

Parishes represented in the North County Deanery are All Souls, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Holy Name of Jesus Parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Presentation, Sacred Heart, St. Ann, St. Angela Merici, St. Ferdinand, St. Jude, St. Martin de Porres, St. Norbert, St. Rita, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne and St. Sabina.

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