St. Paul School earns STEM designation

SALEM — St. Paul School now holds the Ohio STEM designation for its effective use of project-based and problem-based learning, particularly in areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

“This separates us from everyone else,” Principal David Pancurak said. “This shows the product we’re producing is top-notch for our kids.”

The parochial school for pre-K through sixth grade students has been serving the Salem area on East State Street since 1904, constantly evolving as technology took hold, embracing the idea of preparing students for a global society while still focusing on mind, body and spirit.

St. Paul School is the only local school in the area with the Ohio STEM designation and the first one in Columbiana County and the Youngstown Diocese. Out of 10 schools earning the designation this year, St. Paul School was the only parochial school. There were 28 acceptable application submissions and out of that number, 21 schools received a site visit, with St. Paul School visited virtually due to COVID-19. Of the 10 schools earning a designation, seven earned the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) logo and three received the STEAM mark, which includes Art.

The Ohio Department of Education announced the designations in partnership with the Ohio STEM Learning Network, with the Ohio STEM Committee making the decision based on a rigorous application process. St. Paul School submitted an application that was 44 pages long.

According to a press release issued by OSLN, “The Ohio STEM Committee approved applications for schools that implement best practices in STEM and STEAM education. STEM education encompasses a culture of inquiry, entrepreneurialism, problem solving, problem-based learning, and connections to the real world. STEAM education expands this idea with a focus on the arts.”

Pancurak said the school has worked on and off with OSLN the past couple of years with some projects and by presenting at conferences they sponsored. OSLN is a public-private partnership managed by the Columbus-based company Battelle, which invests in STEM education. Both public and private schools are eligible to apply for the STEM designation.

The process of applying began with pre-application meetings for potential applicants through OSLN and ODE, with additional feedback provided to applicant schools. Then there were in-person or online site visits and a recommendation by OSLN. The Ohio STEM Committee comprised of policymakers, agency directors and business leaders did the final review.

“These schools contextualize classroom learning for their students, providing a clear answer to the question, ‘when will I ever use this?'” Heather Sherman, Director of OSLN for Battelle, said in the press release. “When STEM/STEAM education is done well, students understand the connection between classwork and careers.”

Pancurak said St. Paul School applied this year, but got to this point over a four-year period slowly incorporating STEM into the curriculum. The school actually provides more of a STREAM education to students, using that hands-on, problem-solving, real-world approach in Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Art and Math.

He actually started with a Lego club after school which evolved to an afterschool STEM club. Dr. Jacqueline Mumford from Walsh University starting helping three years ago with the club which was then made into a class for all students to take part. Teachers were involved and the focus on STREAM in all classes and all grades started transforming the culture of the school.

“We truly formed what we call a STEM Learning Ecosystem,” he said.

A STEM advisory group was formed involving parents, engineers, doctors and others from the community. Pancurak said a key component for getting the designation was the school’s local partnerships with businesses and other public entities, such as the Columbiana County Educational Service Center and Kent State University Salem campus, which hosts a STEM event, the Youngstown Phantoms hockey team and others.

He credited the teachers and staff for their work and dedication and their focus on the students at the center of the educational process. They didn’t just buy in to the idea, he said they grabbed it and ran with it. He said it’s almost like they’re coaches for the students. Even when the students were home-schooling in the spring due to COVID-19, they continued reaching out as part of their lessons, such as the fourth graders communicating with Geneva-on-the-Lake about the erosion issues along Lake Erie and third graders working on recycling with the Mahoning County green team.

Pancurak also said the school received a lot of good support from Rev. Robert Edwards and the parents. Next the school will try to get the STEAM designation with the arts. The school is one of only 79 in Ohio with the STEM designation. The list includes schools in Warren, in Steubenville and in Akron.

Anyone interested in information about St. Paul School can give Pancurak a call at 330-337-3451. Scholarships and financial aid are available. School returns on Sept. 8.



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