By Deacon Tom Picciano
Sun contributing writer
BINGHAMTON — Seton Catholic Central High School (SCC) is taking a big step this year with new courses focused on STEM: science, technology, engineering and math. It will be the first Catholic high school in New York State to offer pre-engineering courses through Project Lead the Way.
Project Lead the Way provides hands-on education to learn about all aspects of engineering and receive college credit. Originally developed at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the project has spread to other colleges and universities across the country to serve middle and high school students.
“We felt this is a cutting edge initiative,” said SCC principal Richard Bucci.
“What you hear right now on the national level from the Department of Education in Washington, from the New York State Department of Education, is that it’s really a national priority for education to focus on STEM courses,” Bucci said. “There’s a shortage of mathematicians, scientists and engineers in the United States — a significant shortage. So projects like this put a foundation in schools and try to get students focused on these courses.”
Five courses will be offered over a four-year period for SCC students. The first, starting this fall, will be a full-year study of Principles of Engineering to introduce students to a variety of concepts while doing problem-solving plus research and design. Beginning next fall, Introduction to Engineering Design will be offered for a full year of study. The hands-on course will allow students to use computer software to design solutions to problems, record their results and share them with engineers.
The first course will be taught by chemistry teacher Diana Simpson, who has taken training over the summer at RIT to prepare for the new curriculum. The first class will include 15 students from the 8th through 11th grades. Future courses will include Civil Engineering, Digital Electronics and a “capstone course” focusing on Engineering Design and Development.
Bucci noted that engineering is an evolving field, as evidenced by so many changes in technology over the last 25 years.
“We’re trying to show here that we’re not a stagnant school. We’re also evolving and looking for courses that we think are relevant to give our students the best education possible,” he said.
Project Lead the Way was recently cited by the Harvard Graduate school of Education as a model for 21st century career and technical education. Bucci added that it is a course of study recognized as “exceptional nationwide.”
While the current courses are aimed mainly on high school students, Bucci didn’t rule out offering courses to middle school students.
“We’re not starting soon enough. There are a lot of students who leave high school that don’t have a fundamental idea what engineering is all about. When they’re making their career decisions, a lot of times a career in science and technology is not even in the equation,” Bucci said.
New courses aren’t the only update to science and technology at SCC this year. By early September, renovations will be complete on the high school science labs. It’s the first time they’ve been changed since the school was built 50 years ago.
New floors, workstations, and SMART Boards will be among the additions that will be ready for students by the second week of September. Some of the original wooden wall cabinets will remain with new countertops.
Funding came from an ongoing $225,000 capital campaign. The McDevitt Fund provided $100,000 for the project. Other funds have come in amounts ranging from $20 to thousands of dollars. Bucci said the J.A. McCormack Sons Funeral Home recently donated $20,000 to the project.
“They share our vision for putting an emphasis and focus on science and engineering and they realize how critical it is for students to have the best resources possible in those fields,” Bucci said. “The generosity of benefactors like that enables [SCC] to compete and offer an exceptional curriculum.”
Bucci is looking forward to sharing the results of Project Lead the Way with other high schools in the diocese. He sees the curriculum as important to the students.
“There are a lot of students who will take this course and say it’s not for me. But there are other students who never thought engineering was a possibility and realize they have an innate aptitude for it,” he said. “What we want to do is offer as comprehensive a curriculum as possible. The way the global economy is changing — this is the wave of the future.”
Bucci said he’s talked about the new courses with prospective SCC parents and received a positive response. “I think it will help make it attractive for students who are looking for a comprehensive education,” he said.