Local Schools

Proactive plan helps prepare digital citizens

Julia Beerman (left) and Ella Donohue, first-graders at St. Ann School in Prairie Village, use an iPad to work on a coding project. St. Ann has not only embraced technology at its school but also worked in lessons on the mechanics and morals of technology.

by Susan Fotovich McCabe
Special to The Leaven

PRAIRIE VILLAGE — The emphasis that St. Ann School here placed on technology started long before the pandemic.

But the lessons learned are taking on new meaning for students as they’ve spent more time in front of the screen.

When it comes to teaching the mechanics and morals of technology in 2021, St. Ann technology instructor Christine Lemmon leverages her personal and professional perspective in the classroom.

“As a mom of six and a technology teacher, I am painfully aware of how much time we all are spending online, even more so this past year due to COVID-19,” Lemmon said. “And while I love technology, I am also aware of the need to go beyond just knowing that it’s a problem to be online too much or on the wrong sites. We need a proactive plan of how we are going to prepare ourselves and our kids for this new normal.”

Shaping minds and souls

As a Catholic educator, Lemmon appreciates the holistic view the archdiocese takes to educate a student’s “body, mind and soul.” Additionally, she embraces the notion that it is a teacher’s job to partner with parents to educate and take an active role in discovering “their mission for God’s church on earth and helping them become disciples for Christ.”

Lemmon teaches coding, typing and word processing to prepare her students for high school and beyond. She also takes time to have what she calls “digital discussions” that focus on the skills and values that protect them, their bodies and their souls in the digital landscape.

“Students need to think about their digital footprint and safety issues like strong passwords and what information is OK to share online,” she said. “But it goes beyond safety. We introduce models like Blessed Carlo Acutis, who the students related to as a young Catholic man and computer scientist.

“He used his technical skills purposefully and to further the mission of the church, creating a website of eucharistic miracles,” she said. “The students connect with what he accomplished and strive to create something meaningful as well.”

Digital footprints

As principal of St. Ann, Liz Minks is proud of the way her staff has integrated morality and personal responsibility into their classroom lessons.

Minks credits Lemmon with prioritizing the students’ relationship with Christ, underscoring the importance of putting Jesus first and applying that to interactions with others.

“When I was in school, I can remember teachers sharing that we would not want to pass a note in class with anything that could hurt someone else or ourselves. My, how that has evolved!” she said. “Now, the conversation is about understanding that anything we put online can be viewed by many others.”

A young boy plays on an iPad. With this generation growing up with this type of technology, educators emphasize the importance of teaching them how to use it responsibly.

Lemmon also co-teaches the school’s Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Art and Math (STREAM) class with Carolyn Bible. For Bible, her goal in teaching STREAM is to help students take what they have learned in class and use it to help others. Her curriculum is designed to teach students how to transition from knowledge in the classroom to being more socially aware and empathetic citizens.

Care and compassion

Bible and Lemmon’s students are currently working on a unit called “Play It Forward,” in which they are recreating toys made for able-bodied children into adaptive toys for children with disabilities.

Specifically, Bible’s 7th-grade students are studying circuitry for this purpose.  Students had to rewire push-button toys to switch activation.

“Adaptive toys and switches are very costly. It is not unheard of to pay $60 for a push-button switch and the mark-up for adaptive toys are three to four times what we pay in stores,” Bible said. “For us, the cost was about $5 to $8 total for everything!”

According to Bible, the toys and switches rewired by the St. Ann students will be donated to Variety KC and distributed to the families it serves.

“The kids are making a difference in the world and helping to offset the high cost of these toys for families,” Bible said. “I want them to be able to say they have made a difference in someone’s life.”

It certainly has made a difference in the life of Christy Schoenfeld and her daughter Kate, an eighth grade student at St. Ann.

“I really enjoyed this project because I knew it was going to a child who would get more use out of the toy than I did. Since this was my toy, I was really glad to have it go to someone who needs it and would take good care of it,” Kate said. “Having a connection made it more meaningful.”

Kate converted a stuffed puppy her godmother gave her a few years ago on Valentine’s Day. When you press its arm, the puppy starts to sing. It had been sitting in her room for a few years, and when she learned of the project, she knew it would be perfect. 

It was not just the academics of the project — seeing inside the stuffed animal and exploring its circuitry — that Kate found rewarding. It was the “hands-on approach,” using the soldering gun, reconnecting the wires and seeing it all come together for a good cause. Kate’s mother has appreciated the school’s emphasis on compassion.

“I do know that when you can tie faith and Catholic values into anything, that can make a difference in a project,” Christy said.

Lemmon’s dedication to responsible technology was recently profiled on the Koch Industries website. Koch, based in Wichita and ranked by Forbes as the largest privately held company in the U.S., sponsored a virtual training session on computer science principles. It was hosted by CODE.org, a nonprofit dedicated to making coding education and computer science more accessible to K-12 students. During the 10-unit summer course, Lemmon learned how to teach the basics of coding and computer science.

Lemmon also hosts St. Ann’s annual “Hour of Code,” an engaging day focused on computer science. St. Ann and other schools in the archdiocese, including Holy Trinity in Lenexa and Holy Cross, Overland Park, use a CODE.org curriculum and Common Sense Media to support their technology instruction. Lemmon also produces “Tech Balanced Life,” a monthly newsletter for parents to share in the discussions of their children’s technology lessons.

“All of it goes back to the bigger-picture questions of who you are and how you want to be known in real life and online,” Lemmon said. As always, we want to raise good citizens, but also good Catholic leaders.”

“With more and more of their lives online,” she concluded, “it’s critically important to have these discussions at school and at home. I firmly believe that as Catholics we are uniquely qualified to lead not only ourselves, but the world, toward a more purpose-driven, joy-filled, online experience.”

Christine Lemmon’s monthly newsletter link can be found online at: www.smore.com/7wsxz.

About the author

Susan Fotovich McCabe

Susan Fotovich McCabe is a writer, editor and Kansas City native. As a writer, Susan has covered a wide array of topics, from health care to aviation and everything in between. Susan built a long freelance practice, where she contributed to local publications, such as The Kansas City Star, Kansas City Business, Lifestyle Magazine and Parenting Children with Special Needs. She worked for two Kansas City public relations agencies and a media publishing company. Susan and her husband, Bill, support all things Jayhawk and love spending time with their three children, son-in-law and granddaughter.

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