Sixth grader Alice Cleaver likes the more hands-on, and less eyes-on approach to science learning at St. Stephen School in Glenwood Springs.
That’s because the new STEM lab microscopes — purchased out of a $50,000 donation from a longtime school supporter — have computerized screens, instead of an eyepiece to view what’s under the lens.
“I like how the microscopes have actual screens so we don’t have to put our eye on it,” Cleaver said during a Tuesday science experiment day using the new lab equipment.
“I always have fun in science, because you can learn about animals and other new stuff,” she said.
Classmate Elijah Kelley agreed.
“I like that you can learn about space, and animals, and genetics, and DNA, and just how things work,” he said. “I really like the robots, because you can choose between coding it or just driving it around with your fingers, or drawing a path on your iPad and it will do that path.”
The new middle school science lab at the pre-kindergarten-through-eighth grade Catholic school was made possible through a grant from longtime Glenwood Springs resident Chris McGovern.
“The school has benefitted from receiving some master teachers, and I wanted to help build on that,” said McGovern, whose now-adult children attended St. Stephen School in the 1980s and who has supported the school in different ways over the years.
When she inquired about making a charitable donation, the school’s leaders said a modern STEM lab would be of benefit to the school.
“We had a window of opportunity to get it done before the school year started, and I really wanted to make sure the students had a proper room and the equipment to go with it, as part of rounding out their education.”
Jenna Payne, the middle school science teacher at St. Stephen, said the new lab equipment fits her teaching style.
“Since we’re such a small school, it’s great to have all this new equipment,” she said. “I’ve always taught science hands-on, so to be able to have access to whatever I need is pretty fantastic.”
After introducing the new equipment to the students last week, she used Tuesday to introduce some new concepts to her students.
“It’s nice to take a little break from the unit we’re studying and learn something new,” Payne said.
St. Stephen Principal Glenda Oliver said the new lab equipment helps forward the school’s STEM initiative at the same time that the school is raising money for a new gymnasium and school remodel.
“It’s really allowing the kids a hands-on experience with STEM, and they’re also learning how to do some coding with applied math,” Oliver said.
“It gets to where we see the future jobs are for these kids, where they’re going to have to be able to solve problems and work in groups. Obviously, having computer, math and applied science skills is going to benefit them down the road.”
St. Stephen now serves around 160 students, and has seen a big change in its student population in recent years as the school has begun offering more tuition assistance. That’s also come with the help of donations, grants and foundation support, Oliver said.
As one result, the school now has a student population that is about 66% Latino. About 0.05% of the students are classified as English Language Learners, she said.
“We think that the population of our student body more closely reflects that of our community than it did in the past,” Oliver said. “Another thing that is different is that we have students coming to St. Stephen’s from Basalt, Carbondale, New Castle, Silt and Rifle.”