Lawrence grade school ‘like none other’

LEAVEN PHOTO BY JESSICA LANGDON St. John the Evangelist fourth-graders Trenton Snyder (far left), Michael Williams and Joey Wood watch as visiting artist Jessica Dunn demonstrates the clay project they are about to start.
LEAVEN PHOTO BY JESSICA LANGDON St. John the Evangelist fourth-graders Trenton Snyder (far left), Michael Williams and Joey Wood watch as visiting artist Jessica Dunn demonstrates the clay project they are about to start.

Expansion and unique classes prepare students for success

by Jessica Langdon
jessica@theleaven.org

LAWRENCE — Third-graders at St. John the Evangelist School here barely had time to shake off the space dust from their tour of the solar system before it was time to study a more earthly matter: Spanish.

The students were still posing for pictures for their upcoming solar system play when Spanish teacher Claudia Olea arrived for their language lesson.

Since every student in the school takes Spanish — and this year the school didn’t have space for a specific Spanish classroom — Olea travels from room to room.

But next year, all of that — and much more — will change at St. John, thanks to a $2.1 million expansion.

Principal Pat Newton enjoys a view of the construction from her office window and happily invites students in to check out the progress. Several grades watched crews pour concrete, and everyone eagerly anticipates its opening in the fall.

Room to grow

When that day comes, the new structure will house a much larger library on the ground level and the current classroom-sized library will become the permanent Spanish room.

The new building will feature a multipurpose room, which will provide a more permanent address to middle school religion teacher/parish youth director Jennifer Meitl Conrad, who for now hauls a backpack between a few locations.

In that room she will both teach religion classes and hold parish youth activities.

The new room’s kitchen will also be perfect for parish needs such as funeral dinners.

Upstairs, four new classrooms, including a science lab and music room, will open.

All of this couldn’t come at a better time.

St. John, which for years taught students only through sixth grade, opened to seventh-graders last fall.

It will have its first class of eighth-graders in many decades this fall — a move that fits with recent restructuring in Lawrence public schools.

The expansion, supported by pledges from parishioners, will provide room for everyone.

“I’m just excited about what we’re building here — and what has been built here,” said pastor Father John Schmeidler, OFM Cap.

Kids here don’t trudge into school reluctantly.

“They’re running in to get to class and see what’s happening today,” he said.

Hands-on learning

A lot happens on any given day.

“One of the things I love is there’s so much hands-on learning,” said Olea, who is also mother to a seventh-grader and a third-grader at St. John.

In one room, visiting artist Jessica Dunn wove lessons about unity and recycling into a clay project for fourth-graders.

Intermediate/middle school science teacher Kel Catterton gives students a taste of modern science.

“We took cotton swabs and put them on different parts of our tongues to see where we could taste bitter, sweet, sour and salty,” explained fifth-grader Katie Williams.

And middle school students dissected frogs.

It all takes place in a regular classroom now, but the new science lab will be “the real deal,” said Newton.

“I’m very, very excited about the science lab,” added Catterton. “It’s going to be as good as any one of the high school science labs.”

The new space will put robotics, engineering and other topics within their reach.

Every classroom already boasts interactive SMART Boards — all thanks to donations.

Eyes on the future

Middle school students are exposed to many ideas through “exploratory classes,” explained Newton.

Father Mike Scully, OFM Cap., teaches a class on the Bible and also guides students to discover Christian meaning in rock music.
Students explore languages such as Mandarin, Latin, French and German, learn about foods, and engage in debate and theater.

Kasey Fewins, who pulls double- duty teaching kindergartners and working with middle school students on theater, taught the older group in January about projecting their voices.

They can use skills like projection and articulation in any setting, from reading in church to interacting with others, she said.

Newton’s husband Bob, producer/engineer for the University of Kansas football and basketball radio broadcasts, even teaches kids how to operate a high-tech soundboard for their productions.

Middle school students also visit residents at Presbyterian Manor, a continuing care senior living community nearby.

“Our master schedule is like none other,” said Newton.

Father John loves watching the students mature from grade to grade.

They are living examples of the Capuchin charism of welcoming everyone, he said.

The school is hopefully laying a strong foundation of faith that will guide and inspire them, he said, as well as giving them the education they will need in the fields they choose in the future.

“Faith becomes ingrained in everything that they do,” he said.

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