LAKEWOOD — The question of how to deliver education to students in the future may have been answered when the new school year started last month at St. Edward High School.
The new, $5.5 million, 28,000-square-foot Joseph and Helen Lowe Institute for Innovation is at the heart of what school officials say they are seeking to inspire in the next generation of servant leaders, developing the skills of creative problem solving with real-world applications. The project also included the addition of a second story and “significant bump out of the back” of the engineering building.
The 10 sons and many grandsons of Joseph and Helen Lowe all attended St. Ed’s.
All this work, according to vice president of strategic initiatives K.C. McKenna, will give St. Edward High School graduates the edge they need to compete in an ever-changing world.
“This is most certainly a future-focused facility,” McKenna said of the building, located on the western side of the campus, adjacent to the Holy Family Chapel. “It’s quite an innovative space that is truly designed to enhance and foster creativity and collaboration – which we believe are key fundamentals in creating a rigorous curriculum.”
In 2001, the school started its engineering program as part of the S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) focus to provide specific engineering preparation for college. McKenna explained that that seed of an idea “grew vigorously” and the program had upwards of 300 students each year.
“Which then created a fundamental need for us to build something that would keep pace with this growth, and a space more conducive to this type of learning where instead of simply pushing out information, we are developing critical thinking and practical skills – a mindset and a skill set,” McKenna said. “The days of lining up in neat rows, sitting at a desk and absorbing information are numbered, and we’ve embraced a lot of change. The space is modular, is open. It just begs for someone to be creative. The space itself facilitates ideas and experimentation.”
The building is three floors, with each floor serving a specific purpose and need. At the top sits the Ken Layden Center for Entrepreneurial Solutions; the second floor houses the Keehan Family Center for Advanced Science; and the first floor holds the HCS Foundation Center for Engineering, which combine to create the Lowe’s Center. There are new science labs for physics and chemistry, a computer technology lab and even a space where virtual reality is embraced. The first floor also boasts an outdoor “maker’s porch” as they call it where experiments “best suited for outdoors” can be conducted.
“And the response to the space has been beyond our wildest expectations,” McKenna said. “It’s wonderful to already see how the students and faculty are interacting in the space – which doesn’t feel like a classroom at all, but rather a space of discovery. You can see the students want to be good stewards of the new space and the new tools, and I believe this space will dramatically change the way students learn.”
And teachers seem to agree. Instructor Nick Kuhar marveled at how interactive the space was not only with the students, but also fellow faculty members. “There would be times I wouldn’t see my colleagues because they’d be holed away in a classroom all day, doors are shut, but here you have entire floors just buzzing with activity and you see teachers and students genuinely engaged and you can witness it.
“When you see 30 folks talking and sparking discussions, it’s truly powerful,” he added. “When you look at how important collaboration and communication are to the careers and skills of the future, and you see it happening, it’s very gratifying. It’s dramatic to see how this space has helped to facilitate and encourage that mindset.”
The culture of innovation that has existed at St. Edward High School since its founding will be enhanced and enlivened through the effortless facilitation of creativity, collaboration, experimentation, design, engineering and prototyping that the Lowe Institute affords, school board president Jim Kubacki said.
Kubacki added, “The Lowe Institute is a gift that will impact every teacher and every Edsman at St. Edward High School,” he said. “It is because of that impact that we are enabled to teach to the future so that our Edsmen will be empowered to create the future.”