Foundation awards $211,655 in grants to Catholic schools, parishes

Categories: Around the Diocese

Breckenridge school uses grant to pilot new LEGO robotics program

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

This year, the Catholic Foundation for the Diocese of Saint Cloud distributed $211,655 to Catholic schools and parishes as part of the Living the Promise grants program.
More than 100 parishes and all 28 Catholic schools in the diocese participated in the annual grant process. The foundation received 223 applications and funded 216 of them. (See breakdown of funding at right).

The grants program was established with initial seed money from a capital campaign held from 2000-2002 under Bishop Emeritus John Kinney.

“The Catholic Foundation is pleased to offer this grant program every year,” said Curt Hanson, the foundation’s executive director. “Thank God for the generosity of our donors and the foresight of Bishop Emeritus John Kinney. They are the reason our parishes and Catholic schools can receive great support for their programs today and for years to come.”

Jude Held worked on the LEGO Robotics software during a demonstration by Milan Drewlow last year.

Jude Held worked on the LEGO Robotics software during a demonstration by Milan Drewlow last year.

St. Mary’s School in Breckenridge was one of this year’s grant recipients. Principal Linda Johnson wrote the grant to pilot a new program, LEGO Robotics, for the school’s the sixth graders.

“We are so grateful to receive the Living the Promise grant so that we can purchase this program and equipment,” Johnson said. “This will be a great resource to teach students how science, technology, engineering and math are interconnected in a very exciting way.”

The program involves the use of LEGO Robotics hardware and software introduced during a workshop held last year at St. Mary’s by Milan Drewlow, the Wilkin County 4-H program coordinator with the Minnesota Extension Service.

Drewlow became interested in the LEGO Robotics program because of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — which is an area of emphasis for the national 4-H organization and something Johnson is also interested in promoting.

“The youth do not realize that they are using math to program the robot to move or engineering to design a robot until you point it out to them,” Drewlow said. “The classroom teachers have commented on how engaged the students become when trying to solve the challenges.”

Drewlow spent eight to 10 hours in the classroom at St. Mary’s last year. The program goes something like this: The youth build an educational robot. Sensors are attached to the robots and the youth are introduced to some of the things the robots are able to do. They spend a classroom period on using laptops to introduce the students to programming. Then challenges are presented to the youth and they need to program the robot to solve them.

“A favorite is to program the robot to make a series of moves and turns to go from the starting point and park the robot in a garage without hitting any obstacles,” Drewlow said.

He wraps up the classroom activities by allowing the youth to design a robot that can push another robot out of a circle.

Tom Haire, sixth- grade teacher at St. Mary’s, observed Drewlow last year when he introduced the program to Haire’s students.

Most St. Mary’s students attend the public high school after completing eighth grade, where Haire said they also have a robotics program.

“By using the LEGO Robotics program, the kids can see what areas they excel in,” he said. “Then they feel encouraged to step up and use their God-given abilities. Some excel in the math area, some in the design and building and some in computer programming. It also encourages group learning.

“Students recognize what talents they have been given and begin putting them to use,” he added. “By using this program, we are trying to expand what we are able to provide and help each student find an area where they can thrive.”

The Catholic Foundation for the Diocese of Saint Cloud, established in 2000, was created to provide a solid financial future for the ministries offered through the diocese and for other religious, charitable and educational purposes. The Living the Promise grant program has distributed nearly $2 million to Catholic schools and parishes since 2004.