Catholic schools put the ‘R, for Religion’ in STREAM culture

St. Andrew School in Myrtle Beach incorporated STREAM activities into their cultural lesson on the celebration of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Provided

DIOCESE—In the ever-changing world of complex technology, STEM curriculum, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, has become vital in teaching our nation’s youth how to evaluate information and problem solve. 

Many programs across the country have added the “A” for art, making it STEAM. Catholic schools have gone one step further by adding an “R” for religion, making the acronym STREAM. 

St. Gregory the Great School in Bluffton teaches STREAM curriculum. In fact, they were the first non-public school to become STEM certified in 2019 and are the only Catholic school accredited by the AdvancEd STEM certification program. 

Christopher Trott, principal, said it was a grueling process that took years to complete. Among other requirements, the school had to prove that they would commit to preparing students for STEM fields and communicate with leaders in the community who can role model high levels of STEM achievement.

An example of a successful STREAM initiative by St. Gregory the Great was their Luffa Gourd Soap Project in the 2017/2018 school year. Students began by studying the luffa gourd plant and then worked together to build trellises to hold the massive vines and gourds. By the end of the school year, an outdoor garden was created for the luffa gourd plants. 

When the students returned to school for the 2018/2019 year, they learned how to take care of the plant and bleach the luffas. They learned to create soap by including different ingredients and even added scents, selling them at their local Farmers Market. They also donated many of the soaps to the St. Francis Center on St. Helena Island. 

“The luffa gourd soap project used every aspect of STREAM. The “R” is interwoven into everything we do and donating to the St. Francis Center showed the students how they can do good to help our community,” Trott said.

Another school that has excelled at STREAM is St. Andrew School in Myrtle Beach. Debbie Wilfong, principal, said they are working on their certification.

“COVID delayed the process some, but we are getting back on track,” she said. 

One of their STREAM projects involved the celebration of Dia de los Muertos. Wilfong explained that for the “S” (science) in STREAM, the students grew marigolds; for “T” (technology), they created puppet shows and videos; for “R” (religion), they analyzed the depiction of the afterlife and heaven in the movie “Coco”, which is about the Day of the Dead; for “E” (engineering), they created a puppet theater and altar; for “A” (art), they decorated the altar, and created skulls and flowers; and for “M” (mathematics), they measured and discussed angles for the puppet theater and altar. 

Coming into the 2020/2021 school year has been different for STREAM education in that schools cannot accept guest speakers, but Wilfong said she has been impressed with how teachers have continued to teach STREAM on their own.

“I look forward to next year when we can resume more hands-on projects. We have big plans,” she said.

Both Trott and Wilfong agree that STREAM curriculum is paving the way to the future of education and their students’ adult careers. 

“We live in such a fast-paced world. STREAM teaches us to stop and think,” Wilfong said. 

“That skill set of critical thinking, being more hands-on and really learning how to construct or build is becoming more desirable,” Trott concluded. 

On March 17, two other schools were recognized at STEM Education Day in Columbia by South Carolina’s Coalition for Mathematics & Science. Among the winners were St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Myrtle Beach and St. Joseph in Anderson, earning “Growing in STEM” awards.