The Roncalli Catholic High School principal wanted to have something outside the traditional "stand-and-deliver" classroom.
So Paul Hans, in his third year as principal, asked for a grant from the Archdiocese of Omaha to remodel the old library into a facility that would bring out the students' creative side.
The result is a $216,000 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) lab that Hans said students are "beating down the door" to get into.
"We put on a new coat of paint, new carpet and cleaned it up," he said, "and now it's a whole different space."
He said 120 of Roncalli's 414 students are signed up for the first semester of the introductory class, STEAM Discovery and 21st Century Skills.
The archdiocese footed the bill through a grant for the remodel, equipment and first-year teacher salary. The room has equipment for app-making, 3-D printing and designing, photo and video editing, claymation and animation, robotics, architecture and engineering.
"When you put science and engineering in front of kids, it gets them thinking," Hans said. "They get to find their passion."
The library space became available after a new media center, the Gustafson Center, opened in 2014, featuring iMacs, personal computers, Chromebooks and video monitors. The center also includes the Pride Cafe, which teaches students about starting and running a small business.
The new teacher of the STEAM class is James Laville, who graduated from the University of Kansas with degrees in art and special education.
"This is more like an art class," he said. "I won't really be lecturing. Instead, students will come in and get to work."
Laville has been familiarizing himself with the equipment all summer. He said he's going to be more hands-off so the students can learn how to use their resources, just as they would have to in the real world.
"I'm going to encourage them to really explore things for themselves."
Laville said the students won't take tests. Instead there will be two students to each station, and they will work with that equipment for about seven days and then present their findings to the class.
Ann O'Connor, who took over as Roncalli's president in July, said the lab will help teach students teamwork and problem-solving skills.
O'Connor, a 1978 alumna and the school's first female president, said she is excited to be at her alma mater as it grows in enrollment and academics. Since last year it's increased to 414 students from 261.
"The STEAM lab is on the cusp of something very new and innovative," she said. "We are preparing them to be successful in the next step of their lives."
The school is moving forward with technology in other areas as well, Hans said. This year, all freshmen were required to buy iPads, and each class that follows will, too.
"I wanted to make us relevant and give us that wow factor," Hans said. "This is a special place, and we want to bring people into this community."
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