Breaking the Norm

The following blog was contributed by E. Jo Hoy, President of the West Deanery Unified Catholic Schools, and Elizabeth Ramos, Principal of St. Michael-St. Gabriel the Archangel Elementary School.

It has become increasingly clear that preparing women and minorities is critical for continued growth and creativity in fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Historically, these populations account for only a fraction of scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians.

The West Deanery Unified Catholic Schools (WDUCS), which is made up of St. Michael-St. Gabriel the Archangel Elementary School and Cardinal Ritter High School in Indianapolis, are committed to “Breaking the Norm.” This change in norm begins at St. Michael-St. Gabriel. The educational preparation and support through high school has been shown to be perhaps the biggest challenge to greater minority inclusion in these STEM fields.

Over the last eight years, St. Michael-St. Gabriel has seen a steady increase in enrollment, with a current enrolment of 344 students in Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 8. Among those students lies representation within the following statistics:

  • 52% female
  • 88% minority
  • 73% Catholic (an increase of 15% in two years)
  • 89% receiving financial aid
  • 84% free and reduced lunch
  • 91% on School Choice voucher
  • 43% ENL population

With a STEM focus at Cardinal Ritter High School, including a biomedical track, robotics and engineering courses, a grant for three 3D printers, for which students received many accolades for this partnership with “Enabling the Future” to create a hand for a six-year-old child in Canada, Cardinal Ritter is in the ideal position to cultivate a science-based relationship with St. Michael-St. Gabriel.

Four years ago, St. Michael-St. Gabriel applied and received a technology grant from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for the purchase of Chromebooks to create mobile computer labs. (With the growing enrollment at the elementary school, the computer lab had been converted into a classroom.) WDUCS also focused on enhancing the infrastructures by using E-Rate to help purchase access points. Additionally, the first phase of the Classroom Campaign, which was an alumni appeal targeting graduates of the former St. Michael School1, began with the intent of upgrading worn and inefficient classroom spaces. Five percent of the monies raised were dedicated to providing Smart Boards, projectors, and teacher technology desks. WDUCS was able to upgrade four classrooms and add technology to several classrooms bringing the number to 17 out of 21 classrooms having full technology access in two years. The last of the classrooms were completed this past summer through the generosity of private donors.

As the face of the West Deanery began to change, it was imperative that the discussions and collaboration continue. Cardinal Ritter began discussion with West Deanery2 elementary schools that would result in the high school providing instructors or training instructors in math and science classes. This would result in common assessments, dual high school credit and the preparation of younger students for the rigor of high school instruction in higher level classes.

St. Michael-St. Gabriel proposed this idea of “Breaking the Norm” so that all students would be given the same opportunities to explore these growing STEM fields. Through the generosity and blessing of a private donor, St. Michael-St. Gabriel was able to create a Maker Space3 in the summer of 2018. This space is currently equipped with twelve tables for student pairings to design and create. Specific areas throughout the room are dedicated to 3-D printing, coding, robotics, bridge building, circuitry, and digital photography. A Lego® curriculum has also been added to help students in grades Pre-K to Grade 8 implement their designs.

In just three months, the school has seen an increase in student engagement and excitement for learning through the use of this space. Currently both St. Michael-St. Gabriel and Cardinal Ritter use this space for their junior high robotics clubs. Students have also constructed apple carriers and bridges. As teachers continue to participate in STEM-specific professional development, St. Michael-St. Gabriel will be working on adding more coding and circuitry lessons. Additionally, students will be using the 3D printers to create small instruments for their music class during the second semester.

As we continue our efforts in “Breaking the Norm,” we are excited to see what the future holds for our students, for we are dedicated to enhancing the education of each and every single student who enters our doors.

1In 2010 the Archdiocese of Indianapolis approved the merger of St. Michael School and St. Gabriel School to create St. Michael-St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Elementary School. This move was made due to the declining enrollment at both schools.

2The West Deanery is comprised of the following Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis: Cardinal Ritter High School, Holy Angels, St. Anthony, St. Christopher, St. Malachy, St. Michael-St. Gabriel, St. Monica, St. Patrick, and St. Susanna.

3The following link provides more information about the Maker Space movement: