St. John Notre Dame – A STREAM School

Notre Dame School was founded in 1962 by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN). The school partnered with St. John the Baptist Church, the only Catholic parish in the city of Folsom, CA. The charism of the school was deeply rooted in the sisters’ Hallmarks established to tackle St. Julie Billiart’s (the foundress of the sisters) famous essential question, “How good is the good God?” The school thrived under the leadership of the sisters with the support of the growing parish. 

The sisters left Folsom in 1984, and Notre Dame transitioned into a parochial school and was re-named, St. John Notre Dame (SJND).  Today, SJND serves 360 students in grades TK-8 and is supported by a faculty and staff of forty-seven lay people. St. John Notre Dame School’s mission is to educate children, to encounter Jesus Christ and to form disciples.

Upon my arrival to St. John Notre Dame, in 2014, it was obvious that work needed to be done to move the school into the 21st century. Luckily, many of the necessary components were in place to begin this process. The faculty and staff were united in mission and unveiled a healthy Christocentric ethos. The school had the necessary financial resources to update curriculum and purchase devices to support learning. Most importantly, there was an eagerness by all shareholders to support the children with whatever technological tools they needed to achieve academic success. This was no surprise given Folsom is Intel country. The essential question was, ‘What does success look like?’ 

     I quickly put together a team, composed of gifted faculty, to begin the work of moving SJND into the 21st century. We conducted parent surveys, visited successful 21st century Catholic and secular schools, crafted a list of necessary goals and tapped into our fiscal resources. In the end, we decided on unveiling a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) school culture. A culture that would permeate the entire school regardless of class, grade, or assignment. SJND would be Folsom’ STEM school.

This goal of re-shaping the culture of the school was met with some push-back by shareholders. The faculty was concerned about their technological skills and the parents were concerned about the impending tuition increases. With a clear vision in mind and a strategic plan established and implemented, the tension quickly lessened, and the necessary support began pouring in. 

In short order, thanks to parish resources, targeted fundraising endeavors and the support of local philanthropists, SJND secured enough money to refurbish the old convent into a 21st century STEM lab. But something was missing. We had blueprints and plans. We had devices and a willing teaching staff. In the end, we were missing the most important Person, Jesus Christ. 

Truly, science, mathematics, and engineering are all the languages of the Lord. The essential question then transitioned into, ‘How can moving our school into the 21st century, with STEM education, unveil the Face of Christ and help us form disciples?’ 

After many prayers and discernment, we had an epiphany, the lab would be an intentional place to meet Jesus Christ. Truly, all subjects are non-secular, in fact, they are all religious by their nature, in that they all make the human being better. Truly, the more ‘human’ we become, the more we share in Jesus’ Incarnation. More clearly, what humanizes divinizes. With this Truth in mind and grounded in faith, we decided to unveil a STREAM culture (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Art, and Math). 

Imagery would be important here, thus the walls of the STREAM lab were outfitted with decals and symbols of the faith and subject matter. The STREAM lab was to mirror that of a Silicon Valley workspace, with intentional locations for critical thinking, planning, organizing, making, and analyzing. Everything and every space were to be utilized for STREAM collaboration and projects. We quickly purchased mobile and comfortable furniture, installed 3D printers, and outfitted the lab with all the necessary engineering tools, equipment and supplies for a thriving ‘Maker Space’. 

Not surprisingly, the students gravitated to the STREAM lab for community, academics, and goal-oriented challenges. Many students discovered their God-given talents in this space. In a way, you can say they found their niche. 

With our eyes fixed steadily on Jesus, the faculty deliberately planned and developed weekly STREAM challenges for the students to engineer, construct and complete. In a sense, Jesus became the Reason and the Purpose for everything. The synthesis of this intentional design was systemic, as the students began to look at their daily lives and the entire world through an Incarnational lens. 

 We did not stop at the STREAM Lab. A school culture must permeate throughout the entire campus. Teachers and support staff were encouraged to seek professional development, focus on cross-curricular lesson planning, and intentionally design projects that would allow for deep thought and inquiry. Our collective mindset was centered on Jesus Christ – the Creator of all things. We sought to emulate His Goodness with every STREAM assignment. 

Today, St. John Notre Dame is a 2:1 device school (iPad and Chromebook), a school which offers coding and robotics courses and employs a full-time STREAM teacher for grades 1-8.  The future of STREAM education is bright at SJND. Our students understand and seek Jesus’ presence in all tasks, pray for His influence while collaborating and designing and offer many prayers of thanksgiving when they are successful and when they fail. The students tirelessly seek the Truth and live for the Good.

In the end, STREAM will prepare our students, not only for the transition into high school and the workplace, but also, with their eyes fixed on Heaven, the common good of society. 

Yours in Notre Dame,
Principal Keith Martin 
St. John Notre Dame School
Folsom, CA 95630