By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
A new partnership between Nativity Academy at St. Boniface and the University of Louisville’s J.B. Speed School of Engineering aims to open new doors in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The university has installed a state-of-the-art STEM center on Nativity’s Liberty Street campus and is providing up to five full-tuition scholarships to the Speed School.
Nativity, an independent Catholic School that serves children from low-income families, hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony April 25 on its new “maker space,” where university officials lauded Nativity and its students.
“What’s going on here is truly amazing. These kids, the board, the teachers, the staff — everyone involved here is extremely passionate and that is reflected in the quality of these kids,” said Dr. John Usher, acting dean of the Speed School.
Carol Nord, executive director of Nativity, said her students are excited and challenged by the partnership.
“We want to make sure students who are interested (in STEM) are prepared academically,” she said. “It’s exciting to our kids. It’s a challenge now.
It really encourages them to get excited about academics.”
Usher said the goal of the partnership is not simply to produce college graduates.
“What we are trying to really do is offer an opportunity that science and engineering brings that could actually change their families for generations to come. These kids get engineering degrees and go get great jobs. That is forever. That affects their kids and grand kids,” said Usher, who is also a member of Nativity’s board of directors.
The Speed School outfitted the maker space with a laser cutter, 3-D printer, band saw, drill press and other machines. The space is meant “to be an innovate learning hub with equipment to design and build solutions to real-world problems,” a news release from U of L said.
The stage in Nativity’s gymnasium was renovated to house the maker space. A clear, plexiglass exterior was built to enclose the space. The maker space can be accessed by stairs on either side of the stage.
The school also added new lighting and upgraded its electrical capabilities. Nativity also added an eye-washing station and renovated a nearby bathroom.
“We’ve been trying hard to renovate the building,” Nord said in an interview last week. “Our kids deserve an updated, well-maintained building.”
That’s been a challenge until now, she said, noting that the school has had three-year leases in the past. The school recently secured a long-term lease of 20 years with St. Boniface Church and the Archdiocese of Louisville. Nord said donors will likely be eager to invest in the school now.
The maker-space partnership came about, Nord said, through a donation to the engineering school by Frank and Martha Diebold to provide opportunities in STEM education to children who might otherwise lack that exposure. Frank Diebold earned a master’s degree from the Speed School in 1973. The Speed School has a similar partnership with the West End School.
Students in the Speed School will spend several hours a week with students at Nativity, mainly during the school’s extended afternoon hours, Nord said. Nativity’s school day begins at 7 a.m. and concludes at 5:15 p.m. Speed students will also schedule STEM education events and provide weekly tutoring at Nativity.
The Nativity students are excited about — and focused — on the scholarships to the Speed School, Nord added.
Current students and Nativity graduates who are in high school are eligible for the full-tuition scholarships beginning in 2018.
Eighty-nine students in grades five through eight currently attend Nativity. The school has plans to add an additional fifth-grade class in the near future.