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Catholic schools add religion and art for a STREAM focus

In 27 Catholic schools across the Buffalo diocese, some 6,000 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade have been working on projects in the STREAM field.

Yes, that's STREAM. To the well-known STEM education, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math, Catholic schools have added religion and the arts.

Sunday, students and teachers from those schools got a chance to share their accomplishments and compete against other teams at the X-STREAM Games and Expo, hosted at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute. The daylong event drew about 1,000 people.

While the robot competitions and video game demonstrations looked familiar, some projects – developed in the Diocese of Buffalo and offered to other Catholic school systems around the country – showed the influences of art and religion.

The Lego U project, in which students design models in Legos, included scenes from the Bible, including Jesus' crucifixion.

School teams that developed and sold lip balm in the "You're the Balm" project donated the funds to a worthy cause.

And "Ignite the Power of Art: A Matter of Justice" encouraged students to illustrate the Catholic Church's social justice values in mixed-media mini-murals.

Religion and the arts "are woven into the projects," said Jean Comer, coordinator of the STREAM Education Initiative for the Diocese of Buffalo, which has just begun its fourth year.

Schools choose how they run the courses. "They can integrate it into their curriculum, they can run a weekly STREAM block, or they can run a full line of after-school programming," said Comer. "They choose what works for the culture of their schools."

"It's a way to introduce project-based learning to the students and to the teachers, too," said Comer. "It's getting 21st Century skills integrated into all our classrooms, pre-K to eighth."

In the robotics competition in the packed gym, 38 teams faced off to determine an eventual winner. It was standing room only in a large room where students presented their inventions to a panel in a Shark Tank format.

In the Ignite the Power of Art display, Sophia Young, an eighth-grader at Saints Peter and Paul School in Williamsville, showed off her mini-mural, titled "Caged Freedom."

On a background of newspaper articles, she created a hand reaching from heaven toward an earthbound one, linked by a soft white cord. The words "hopeless," "caged" and "freedom" were accented by dramatic photos forming a wall, which, Sophia said, "shows that you can't take any shortcuts, you have to take the stairs."

Mary McIntyre, art director at Saints Peter and Paul, who developed the "Power of Art" project, said the project required students to examine social justice issues, as well as the work of various artists and art techniques that included printing and graphic images.

Younger children's projects were an appealing combination of hard science and play. They got a start in coding with cute toylike BeeBots. In a project called PEAP, the Primary Engineering Adventure Program, youngsters from St. Andrews Country Day School in Kenmore worked in teams to lure and trap the Big Bad Wolf.

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