Monday, January 30, 2023
Linda Reeves - The Florida Catholic Palm Beach
POMPANO BEACH | St. Coleman School has taken honors for its exceptional teaching and learning environment as it commemorates 65 years of serving the community.
“This was our goal,” said Lori St. Thomas, who is marking 20 years as principal of St. Coleman and 32 years as an educator. “This is who we are. This is where we wanted to be.”
She was referring to the Apple Distinguished School recognition which the school earned in 2022. The designation, which extends for three years, is awarded to exceptional schools around the world that go over and above to provide creative, active learning environments for their students and have proven track records of success.
St. Coleman joins 728 schools in 36 countries around the world that currently hold the Apple Distinguished School recognition. In Florida, only 17 schools carry the title; nine of them are Catholic and six of those, including St. Coleman, are in the Archdiocese of Miami.
The school began exploring ways to use technology in the classroom more than seven years ago. Today, Apple technology is integrated into St. Coleman’s curriculum and throughout the educational facility. Apple tools and devices loaded with apps are in the hands of all 482 students in pre-K3 to eighth grade, and 55 faculty members and staff are Apple-equipped and knowledgeable. The school’s teachers are trained and Apple-certified. They also continue to learn and discover new ways of teaching through continuous education.
“When students come into this classroom, they are attentive and engaged,” said teacher Patricia O’Connor, who is in charge of the school’s STREAM Lab (which stands for science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math). “They want to share. They are creative and interested in learning.”
It takes an invitation to earn an Apple Distinction award, after which invitees must apply.
“Apple invited us in January 2022,” said STREAM Lab teacher Laura Thomas. She has taught at St. Coleman for the past 17 years and is also an alumna with a 13-year-old and an 11-year-old who attend the school. “It definitely sets us apart from other schools.”
As part of the application process, educators are required to provide information on curriculums and performance over the years related to teaching and learning technology, as well as share proven results and success stories.
“We had to give great examples of what the students are doing in school and our vision moving forward,” said Principal St. Thomas. “We submitted our application by June and received an answer in September.”
Schools have an opportunity to re-apply for the award at the end of three years. At that time, teachers are required to go through additional training to brush up on skills and any new technology advances.
St. Coleman’s parents recognize a significant improvement in their child’s performance.
“The school technology is helping them develop and advance,” said Michelle Benitez, a parent with a second grader and sixth grader at St. Coleman. “Technology is making learning more interesting for them. It keeps them engaged.”
St. Coleman has kept a close eye on the changing times and has been taking gradual steps with technology advances over the past years.
“We saw a need for the technology,” said St. Thomas. “The students need it in the society we live in. We want to teach them how to use it and how to be safe, but we try to watch their screen time.
“There is a time when they can put it down,” added St. Thomas, a mother of five who believes youngsters should be spending time away from the computers reading books, engaged in sports on the playground, and involved in fellowship with schoolmates.
With the Apple honor, St. Coleman joins five other archdiocesan schools: Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy High and St. Mark the Evangelist in Southwest Ranches; Cardinal Gibbons High in Fort Lauderdale; Immaculata-La Salle High in Miami; and St. Anthony School in Fort Lauderdale.
Schools holding the Apple Distinguished recognition are encouraged to network and share information with each other to enhance the mission of educating and preparing students for their future in a technology-driven world. They also receive continued support and training from Apple — a necessity in an age of constant technological advancement.
“When I was in school, there were no computers,” said seventh and eighth-grade English teacher Tyler Withrow, 31. He graduated from St. Coleman and joined its teaching team two years ago. St. Thomas, his current boss, was his former principal.
“I started using a computer when I was in college and had to bring my own,” he said. “Today, it is a challenge to prepare students for things that we can’t even imagine will come and for jobs that don’t even currently exist. As teachers, that is our goal.”
Plans are still in the works for celebrating St. Coleman School’s 65th anniversary this year. The Apple distinction gives them an added reason to celebrate.
“We are so thankful for the Apple Distinguished School award,” said St. Thomas. “I have a great team.”