'Apostles of Creation' rule at St. Justin School

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Instead of science class on a recent afternoon, middle-school students at St. Justin Martyr School in Sunset Hills faced a more daunting task.

They had to convince the adults sitting just five feet in front of them that their ideas for outdoor projects not only would benefit the parish and school but also would be doable, both from practical and financial standpoints.

On top of that, a Review photographer and reporter were on hand to observe.

No pressure, or anything.

"I was a little nervous," sixth grader Sophie Stephens admitted.

Not that it mattered, though.

"We had worked on our presentation and practiced it enough that I knew we would be ready," Sophie said, adding that the presentation "went pretty well."

Indeed.

The students handled the presentations with aplomb, expertly using Power Points and a SmartBoard to convey their projects' execution and benefits before addressing questions presented by the adults -- Mike Clausner and Corey Hollander. Members of the St. Justin Martyr school board, Clausner and Hollander serve as liaisons to the parish's Buildings and Grounds committee and will mentor the students through the school's Maker Faire -- think, art fair -- in the week of April 23.

It's all part of the school's Makerspace, dedicated to projects not normally seen in the classroom. The students have built a 3D printer and designed a water-purification system among projects created in "Genius Hour." Whether succeeding or providing lessons in failure, the projects will be celebrated in Maker Faire to culminate St. Justin Martyrs' first year of embedding STREAM -- science, technology, religion, engineering, art and math -- across its curriculum at every grade level. St. Justin Martyr is the only ArchSTL grade school with a dedicated Makerspace.

The purpose is simple: That "R" in STREAM.

"Students discover and use the gifts God gave them in a positive way," St. Justin principal Beth Bartolotta said.

In middle-school grades six through eight, students chose as an elective one of three groups -- the Apostles of Creation, the Apostles of Innovation and the Apostles of Service. In three years of middle school, they'll hit every group -- one per school year.

The Apostles of Creation gave the recent presentations for a shade garden, an herb garden, a pond, a bird garden and a window-well greenhouse. The latter would beautify the humongous window well that exists for the normal-sized windows to allow natural light in basement classrooms; the space is just littered with leaves now.

"These are great ideas," Bartolotta told the students. "I like the range of them."

Clausner and Hollander currently are helping students tweak their plans in preparation for the next phase of the projects -- video presentations to the full Building and Grounds Committee meeting later this month. Irrigation has been one area of improvement, with water collection in a rain barrel added to projects.

After approval by the committee and pastor Father Joseph Weber, the projects head to the stage of action plans detailing more specifics, such as funding, supplies and labor as well as a timeline for the projects' completion.

For inspiration, the students need only go to the back yard of the rectory and check out the trial project from last year -- a chicken coop complete with three egg-laying chickens. Raised from hatchlings last spring, Noisy, Rosy and Doc lay eggs that students give Father Weber as "rent" for the chicken-coop space.

"It's been a fun experience," science teacher Beth Kassel said.

In addition to inspiration, the chicken coop will provide practical help for the garden projects this year.

"We can use the chicken manure as fertilizer; it's better than buying fertilizer," Sophie Stephens said.

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