Written by Mary Beth Peabody
South Jersey Catholic Schools enable students to explore interests, hobbies, talents and careers with clubs and electives.
Mike Klein is a volunteer teacher at Bishop McHugh Regional School in Cape May Court House. He is also 13 years old and a Bishop McHugh student. Mike teaches computer coding, which draws about 25 third through eighth graders who stay after school to build computer programs from blocks of pre-written code. Mike likens the blocks to Legos.
“These are the building blocks behind anything in computers,” he said. Mike approached principal Tom McGuire with the idea after taking an online coding course last summer.
Electives and clubs in South Jersey Catholic schools help students explore hobbies, talents, academic interests and life skills. They also give students like Mike a chance to lead and teach.
At Saint Teresa in Runnemede, student leaders Michael Alvarez and Lexi McNeill developed a club for Lego enthusiasts in first through sixth grades. They solicited donations of Legos, encouraged students to join and direct the meetings.
Scrabble and chess are classic pastimes—and skills—cultivated through after-school clubs at Saint Mary’s in Williamstown. The school also has a garden club, started in memory of a deceased parent volunteer. Club members in all grades care for the garden throughout the year.
Volunteers are at the heart of clubs and electives in many schools, for example Saint Michael the Archangel in Clayton and Good Shepherd in Collingswood. Good Shepherd relies on middle school teachers and community volunteers to lead courses like advanced art, culinary arts, understanding of self, sports, keyboarding, developing a student newspaper, current literature and its impact on society, and advanced writing.
At Saint Michael, 47 electives are taught by a combination of teachers, parents and community members. Some electives fulfill curriculum requirements in areas such as language, gym, art and technology, while others lead students to new and developing interests, and build skills, knowledge, and confidence.
Saint Michael seventh grader Autumn Zeak has mastered cookies, mac-n-cheese and camel eye (toasted bread with egg in the middle) in an elective cooking class. In mental math, led by principal Janice Bruni, Nicholas Rosa loves the challenge of solving equations quickly without paper, pencil or calculator. Access to film production opportunities will influence JT Klein’s decision about high school. Fortunately, the diocesan high schools nearest him have production facilities, courses and clubs to support his interest, which was sparked by script writing and film production electives.
Diocesan high schools also offer programs designed to help students discover hidden talents and new interests.
In 2016, Camden Catholic High School took part for the first time in NJ Envirothon, a state-wide competition that equips high school students with knowledge and skills to be young leaders and decision makers, able to solve today’s concerns about natural resources. The competition required months of preparation and a night of sleep under the stars. Students listened to bird calls, identified freshwater macroinvertebrates as a way to determine a stream’s health, learned about soil types to determine best use of land, and measured trees to calculate potential lumber. Students also prepared a five-minute presentation about how to prevent the spread of an invasive species. Sophomores, David Nguyen, Jacob Weismer, Shane Costello, and Wei Zhang, placed second among all new teams.
Technology investments at Paul VI in Haddonfield have yielded a new computer facility and software to support courses in computer aided drafting, graphic design, AP computer science, accounting, digital forensic science and app development. Several media courses are available as well, such as TV, film and documentary production and digital photography. New for the 2016-17 school year is a course in robotics, an advanced application of computer science. Shared robots emphasize the collaborative nature of computing. In order to design, build and improve their robots, students need to apply effective team practices and understand the different roles that are important for success.
Bill Watson, director of Curriculum for the Office of Catholic Schools, believes clubs and electives help support the diocese’s goals to educate the whole person.
“Our schools work hard to provide opportunities for students to become leaders, explore different career options, learn new skills and refine talents,” said Watson. “Some of our schools have really unique programs,” he added. Watson attributed the success in large part to time and expertise donated by parents and other community members and to the dedication of principals and teachers to education beyond the classroom.