By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

Thanks in large part to a state grant for equipment, Our Lady of Calvary School in Northeast Philadelphia has a sophisticated new “Discovery” science lab, which was formally blessed by Auxiliary Bishop Joseph McFadden Jan. 14.

The $150,000 grant was obtained for the 917-student elementary school by State Rep. and former Pennsylvania House speaker Dennis O’Brien. In addition, approximately $22,000 of $35,000 raised by the school through a Race for Education fundraiser went into the project.

“What I have seen in Harrisburg and all levels of government, along with some of the best minds in economic planning and forecasting, is the firm conviction that the key to a better quality of life and a desireable standard of living is the fostering of a knowledge-based job,” O’Brien said. “This lab will help these youngsters become enthusiastic about pursuing higher education and becoming productive members of the economy.”

The grant made possible the purchase of the “Lab Learner” science and related instructional equipment that are at the heart of the science lab. Instruction is given to students at all levels by school science teacher Colleen Hannigan. In addition to the lab itself, two lab carts with 20 computers each can be taken to inspanidual classrooms for special instruction.

The sophisticated lab equipment has made possible a partnership between Our Lady of Calvary School and NASTAR (National Aerospace & Training and Research Agency) Center, a non-government aerospace training facility located in Southampton, Bucks County. NASTAR Center is a training facility utilized by the aerospace industry, the military and the U.S. space program. It also presents aerospace education courses geared to all ages, including elementary school students.

On the day the science lab was blessed by Bishop McFadden, the eighth grade students, along with their teachers, were visiting the center for a walk-through of sophisticated testing and training flight simulator modules used by military and commercial pilots, including the Navy’s famed Blue Angels, NASA astronauts and U.S. Special Forces.

It was a year ago that Our Lady of Cavalry’s principal, Holy Family of Nazareth Sister Mildred Chesnavage, approached O’Brien for assistance in obtaining a grant for the new science learning center. In this she had the full support of Our Lady of Calvary pastor Father John P. Paul, himself a former high school educator.

O’Brien, who is a graduate of Our Lady of Calvary and has two sons in the school, fourth-grader Brendan and second-grader Joseph, was more than willing to help.

The lab’s name “Discovery” was chosen by Father Paul because he said, “the name ‘Discovery’ has inspired achievement. It describes the energy and motivation we want for our children.”

Sister Mildred is certain the lab will provide a strong educational foundation as the students move on to high school, college and beyond.

“We are grateful to Denny O’Brien, our staff, our friends at NASTAR and everyone who played a part in providing this opportunity to our students and their families,” she said.

As for the students themselves, their insights were charmingly age-appropriate.

“The science lab is a great hands-on learning experience that helps us better understand what we learn in science,” said Veronica Dos, grade eight.

“I like that in the lab I can do cool experiments I can’t do at home,” added Danielle Wreath, grade four.

But along with the equipment there is something to be said for presentation.

“I really like the skeleton, the globes and the fish painting in the science lab,” said first-grader Zachary Johnson.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.