This article was contributed by Kathi Stalzer, Spanish teacher at Ss. Simon & Jude Cathedral School and EdTech Coach in Phoenix, Az.
Science at Ss. Simon & Jude Cathedral School (SSJ) in Phoenix, Arizona, is an incredible experience for 6th, 7th and 8th grade students. They study physics, chemistry, robotics, marine biology, genetics, geology, and more. A robust and challenging curriculum comes alive through a dynamic teacher, Maureen Callaghan.
With Ms. Callaghan, SSJ students have the opportunity to participate in a STEM camp, where she says some experience snow for the very first time. Maureen is animated as she talks about students being able to see a clear night sky without city lights, full of constellations they have read about.
A highlight for Ms. Callaghan’s students is the Honeywell Fiesta Bowl Aerospace Challenge. Maureen has had students participate for 15 years–and her students have won first place 5 times! She proudly tells that she has had students in the finals fourteen times, and three years had two teams competing in the finals at the same time. As a result of this competition, Maureen reveals that students learn life skills such as commitment to a project, resolving conflicts, time management, communication, written and oral presentation skills, all while learning about the complexity of science.
If you want to see what teaching is all about, ask Maureen about the Marine Biology Trip that 8th graders take every year. Her face lights up with joy and her words trip over each other in haste to explain. “The kids get to immerse themselves in an environment that is so uniquely different than what they are familiar with.” She tells about living on two small scuba boats in close quarters for three days. “It allows for bonding. It’s a life stage, as opposed to a classroom setting.” Maureen laughs as she explains how the trip began. “I reserved the spot on the boat one month before I got the job! Our principal, Sr. Raphael Quinn, IBVM, said yes to a one-time experience that has grown into an 18-year tradition.”
The students see dolphins, manta rays, jellyfish, harbor seals, pelicans, bald eagles, and whales, and snorkel with sea lions swimming alongside. Maureen watches her students gain confidence and grace over three days as they dive down. “I love to be able to sit back on that boat and watch the kids do their labs, or at the touch-tank. They discover the ocean.” If you ask Maureen about the amount of work involved, she says simply “I see it as an extension of me, not as my job, because I love doing it.”
Principal Sr. Raphael Quinn shares that “her passion for science is communicated to her students in an exciting, creative enthusiastic manner.” Sr. Raphael explained that many of Maureen’s students come back to tell of their success in the science field.
Maureen received her BS in psychology with a minor in biology, and continued on in a post-baccalaureate program to become a teacher. Later she completed her MA in curriculum and instruction. Eighteen of her 21 years teaching have been spent at Ss. Simon & Jude. When asked why she chose to teach at SSJ, Maureen smiled. “I feel like it’s our family community. It’s where my children went to school. I love the education they got, so why wouldn’t I be at the best school I found for my kids?”