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Leading the Way

We followed up on a 2015 Matching Funds event and explored the fantastic impact it’s had.

In 2015, St. Martin 879 in Richmond, Minnesota, donated $4,432 through a Catholic Order of Foresters Matching Funds breakfast to Project Lead the Way at Sts. Peter and Paul School in Richmond. Project Lead the Way is a nonprofit organization that develops STEM curriculum for primary and secondary education and encourages future STEM careers. The donation from Catholic Order of Foresters went to the initial supplies cost of the program which included materials like cotton balls and robotic pieces and even competition fees. Students in kindergarten, first, second, and third grade at Sts. Peter and Paul School began exploring the basics of science through the program. From learning about light and sound to mastering the scientific method, these children developed problem solving skills and practiced patience. The materials from Project Lead the Way inspired collaboration and introduced the students to coding, as well. Fourth and fifth graders now enjoy a hands-on experience as they engineer simple robots. The students must code the robots to perform a variety of tasks like navigating a maze or putting a ball in a basket. The students divide into four teams and work together to make their robots functional. Kids who are especially passionate about robotics may go on to compete locally, nationally, or internationally.

Project Lead the Way Coordinators Brenda Job and Paula Thelen, who are both teachers at Sts. Peter and Paul School, have seen an infinite number of doors opened for their small-town students. “Of the last seven years we’ve been doing this, we have made it to the world competition four times,” Paula said. “Our kids are meeting and working with kids from California, Japan and Germany.” “When the kids are at competitions, they are put on a bigger team with students from everywhere, so sometimes they have to work through language barriers to get their robots working together,” Brenda added. “It really forces them out of their comfort zone, and they walk away with a lot of new friends.” Many of these students would never have a chance like this without Project Lead the Way. Paula and Brenda are trying to see what more they can do, too. “We’re talking about opening up the competition team to third grade as well,” Paula explained. “We want as many of the students as possible to have these opportunities.”

Both teachers are grateful for the help they’ve received from the community and Catholic Order of Foresters. “Without that donation and support, we could never provide our students with these wonderful opportunities,” said Brenda. “You should see their faces light up as they solve a situation or code they’ve been stuck on for a while. There is so much pride and joy in overcoming that obstacle. Thank you so much to [COF] for aiding in providing that.” A simple donation made by a group of Catholic Order of Foresters members five years ago opened a whole new world for this small Catholic school.

Article by Kaitlynrose Bicek.

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