Not one, not two, but three ribbons were cut recently at St. Martha School to signify new additions to the Valinda school.
Love of God Sister Azucena del Rio, principal, assisted in the official ribbon cutting with philanthropist John Shea, whose charitable foundation made the new additions possible. Students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni gathered for an earlier presentation to the Shea Family which featured songs, prayers and words of appreciation.
“One, two, three, there we go!” said Sister del Rio at the first ribbon cutting stop, which was located in front of the new computer lab. St. Martha pastor Father Mauricio Goloran entered the room and blessed the space including the 30 new touchscreen computers, which now sets St. Martha on the technical track forward in education.
“Before we had very old computers and our Internet was down so much it was hard for the children to work on them,” said fourth grade teacher Aneli Quintanilla. “It was very frustrating.”
Last October, Sister del Rio — who has been at the school for 20 years — decided to contact the Shea Foundation and wrote a letter (not an email, but a stamped and enveloped letter) outlining the school’s technological infrastructure and other building needs. Two weeks later, she received an email that her request would be granted.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “It was so very exciting.”
Work began after Christmas last year on converting the old computer lab and updating it with Internet capabilities. But the lab wasn’t the only high-tech addition to the school — each teacher received an iPad as well as a cart that contained 30 iPads for students. Now, students can log on at the computer lab or in their classrooms, depending on the subject. For teachers like Quintanilla, those options made her feel like a kid in a candy store — overwhelmed with possibilities.
Over the summer, the faculty received instruction on how to incorporate the new technology into their classrooms with professional development at Loyola Marymount. “We also got a lot of help from teachers at our neighboring schools, especially St. Genevieve,” she said. “They gave us lots of tips on how to especially use the iPads.”
But the computer lab was just the beginning of the new additions at the school. After a quick tour of the facility, Sister del Rio escorted Shea to the next stop: the Transitional Kindergarten (TK) room. Bright with color, drawings and posters, the TK room hardly resembles its former life as the old school library, said Sister del Rio. Shelves were dismantled and books were distributed among the grade rooms to create the space for the youngest of students on campus.
The program is just in its first year — 24 are enrolled in the program that gives students, according to TK teacher Claudia Gutierrez, “a strong foundation emotionally and socially.” While the students learn ABC’s, numbers, colors and shapes, the focus of the TK room is to introduce students to “everyday life at school” as well as “the skills they will need to grow up and get along with each other,” said Gutierrez.
As the students ate their snack at shaded picnic tables, they were eyeing another new area that they would get to use a little later in the day — the playground, another gift courtesy of the Shea Foundation. Slides, climbing structures, soft padding and covered with a fabric canopy, the playground will be used by TKers and kindergarteners who need time in between lessons to run around and stretch out their legs.
The kindergarten is also a relatively new entity at the school — it’s now in its third year and Sister del Rio says that parents are “elated” with being able to send their young children to the school. In fact, she strongly believes that the addition of the TK, kindergarten, and computer lab will increase enrollment.
Father Goloran also sees new additions from the Shea Foundation as a way for students to understand the power of generosity and the gift of kindness. It was important for them, he said, to see and meet Shea in person.
“The manifestation of God is when we encounter the kindness of heart of a living person,” he said. “We bring the students together so that they would understand that God works through human persons…they need to see that these good things just don’t come down from the sky. They come about because of someone’s kindness.”