Science a Hands-on Experience at John Paul II Catholic School

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Evan CalabreseKayaking down intercoastal waterways, trudging through marshland, building catapults and even riding roller coasters are just a few of the many activities John Paul II Catholic School science classes have participated in throughout the past two years.

According to Heather Rembold, assistant principal and science teacher at JPII, there is much in store for the future of the program. “In today’s education scene there is a large emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math),” she said. “The growth for this type of curriculum will be huge.”

The past years at JPII have been filled with scientific achievements. Science Fair is serious business, and the contenders for the top projects are always outstanding.  Students fight for a top spot in their grade level and for Best in Show Overall.

Being in the Low Country gives the JPII science program, specifically biology and environmental science, a unique advantage. The Port Royal ecosystem is entirely unique among coastal zones and harbors life unseen elsewhere. Working with the Maritime Center, which is conveniently two miles from the school, students are able to explore in-depth the unique aspects of the environment aboard boats and in the marsh.

A key ideal for JPII’s science program is to encourage critical thinking and ignite interest in students that previously had none. Part of a teacher’s job is to guide their students to this point, or this "lightbulb moment."

Chemistry teacher, Andrea Riley, said her favorite time in class is when her students grasp the more complicated concepts of the subject. “I love when the kids have that ‘Aha’ moment, when something finally clicks and they understand what is happening and they are able to articulate what is going on during a chemical reaction,” she said.

Through her time as a teacher, Mrs. Riley has been able to engage in all sorts of activities with her students. Burning magnesium has been one of her memorable times from this year. “My favorite moments have been when the experiments worked exactly as they were supposed to—like when the class lit magnesium on fire, and it burned above 5000 degrees F.”

As more classes are introduced there is a possibility for a building dedicated solely to STEM. JPII Principal and science teacher, Walt Dupre, said this is his vision. “Ideally we get a building just for STEM programs with a focus on science,” he said. “This new building would have fully equipped labs which would broaden the range of experiments that the classes could do.”

Some students have even pursued science when it wasn’t required. Sophomore Paula Salazar was not required to participate in Science Fair but chose to, anyways. She said she was curious about behavioral psychology and wanted to use the results of her experiment to improve her study habits.

“The purpose of my experiment was to discover how font affects memory, and if using fonts that are difficult to read increases the amount of information a person retains when studying,” she said. “I’m really fascinated by psychology, specifically behavioral, and science fair was a great opportunity for me to learn more about the field.” Paula said she would like to continue to study neuroscience or psychology.

Mr. Dupre was in the same boat as Mrs. Riley in terms of his favorite moments. He loves seeing the material click with the students. “I don’t know that I have one specific favorite experiment or activity that we’ve done,” he said. “I just love seeing students finally grasp the big picture, and put all the pieces together for the first time.”

As the science program at JPII expands, students will continue to explore new horizons. The more courses that become available the more paths students can go down to figure out what it is they enjoy and find interesting.

According to Mrs. Rembold, students will find new options in science available to them in years to come. “I hope that as we continue to grow, with course offerings, we continue to capitalize on the abilities of our faculty and provide both rigorous and interesting science courses at JPII,” she said.

About the Author: Evan Calabrese, 17, is a JPII journalism student