In the final months of our Technology Campaign, our community didn’t just meet our campaign goal of $600,000. Philanthropy guided an “ambitious” plan into an “aspirational” plan as our LFA community committed more than $800,000 to technology resources for our amazing students.
Full STEAM Ahead: A Successful Campaign Transforms the Student Experience
At first glance, the task was relatively simple. Every seed needs both water and sunshine to grow. The girls simply needed to water the seeds for them to grow. However, there was a problem to be solved—the same sort of problem that might face a single farmer with a whole greenhouse full of plants. You can’t do it manually with a watering can. Armed with, among other things, hydrometers (they measure moisture content in the soil), wires, tools, 3D printers, microprocessors, computers, CAD software, a laser cutter, soldering irons, and an engaged faculty member, the girls set off to build their own automated watering system.
Little Flower’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teacher, Dan Chow, has been amazed how quickly the girls pick up the problem solving involved in the ‘design cycle’. “Some of the girls arrive in class not having ever really picked up a tool. Lefty-loosey and righty-tighty are new concepts.” Nevertheless, these young women are empowered to try their hand and by the end, they’re as comfortable setting up and using a laser printer, a soldering iron or a drill press as they are using an app on their phone.
They are guided through modeling their own solutions to the presented problem. Once modelled, they try it out. Like with anything new, there are mistakes. In fact, it’s in the mistakes where this Lab really offers the girls something special. It’s safe to learn from the failures of the early designs. Whether it’s an engineering weakness on the 3D printed arm connecting the motor or a problem with the coding that’s been done to program the microprocessor (yes, they have to do the coding for these projects too), the girls are actively and intimately engaged in fixing and improving their design.
All sorts of intriguing problems require different inputs and outputs. A Smartie (the candy) sorter, based on colour. A Christmas tree with lights that blink to the beat of music or clapping. A maze-solving robotic car. An automated watering system.
Pace of Change Led by Donors
What’s most amazing is that the Lab is only one part of the extraordinary transformation that has been undertaken at the school in just three short years. With independent schools now visiting us for advice on setting up STEAM programs, LFA is very much ahead of the curve—especially as all of our beneficiaries are women.
Yet, when we embarked on this campaign, the school was really trying to catch up with the technology that was commonplace in schools. Interactive projectors were absent from our classrooms and simple projectors were in constant demand on carts that did their miles around campus. The internet was accessible only when booked days or weeks in advance at one of our three computer labs.
The school administration had the technology plan. It came out of our Strategic Plan. It just needed funding. The Little Flower Academy Foundation seized on the opportunity to make an immediate difference at the school. Being extremely careful not to erode the Annual Fund support that is the foundation of so much day-to-day enrichment in the girls experience, the Foundation set out to entirely fund the project through philanthropic support.
In the earliest days, the Foundation was blessed to come upon an early champion and keen supporter of Catholic, girls’ education. Mark and Barbara Cullen saw the technology plan in its rough draft, but had the foresight to see the impact it could have on every girl at the school. While interactive projectors and classroom-based mobile labs were obvious benefits, the Cullens appreciated the importance of first building the behind-the-scenes infrastructure.
They led with a gift that allowed us to move quickly, over the summer to install a professional wifi network and a complete overhaul of our servers and wiring.
The lead gift stirred others to take part. A dozen or so donors accelerated the campaign to within sight of our goal. This final year, we opened it up to the whole community to discover that our community believed in this sort of investment in young women.
Mobile computer labs arrived at an incredible pace. The school adopted a cloud-sharing environment and expanded the ‘learning management system’ on the website. It is to the great credit of our faculty that they embraced this change so whole-heartedly. Watching Adele Mills (one of our senior science teachers) flip effortlessly between her Smartboard to the notebook lab to the Chromebook lab all available in her classroom is inspiring—so much so, that we simply had to include a visit to her classroom as part of a series of tours we did with donors and potential donors during campaign.
Enabling a Culture Change
The goal was to “create an environment that incorporates relevant technology for every student, in every class, and on demand.” It most certainly has been realized. What, however, has been more remarkable is the adaptation of teaching with the resources now at hand. It has resulted in a culture change across the school as the technology is explored by both student and faculty alike.
The culture change is no more evident than in our STEM Lab. With no high school model to copy, we sought out examples at post-secondary education institutions in Vancouver. As the Lab was built out, it quickly became apparent that released to their own creativity and ingenuity (and with no fear of failure), our girls were exploring the boundaries of what’s possible. Within a few short months, in fact, we no longer had a STEM Lab. It had functionally become a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Lab, fulling incorporating a vibrant arts component.
Striving for Extraordinary
The last phase of the original Technology Plan was the replacement of an aging PC computer lab. In that replacement was an opportunity. It involved the school taking on a similar challenge to push boundaries that the girls were doing day-to-day in our STEAM Lab—introducing our first Mac Lab at the school to run alongside the Windows environment. The Mac offered an opportunity to expand what we could offer our students and the capability of the Macs and the software available was another compliment to the STEAM Lab.
If the Mac Lab was to enrich the STEAM Lab, it had to be physically near the equipment that would make our STEAM Lab an amazing ‘maker space’. It was clearly evident that to be truly extraordinary, we would need to find a way to incorporate the Macs and the STEAM equipment and to transform a classroom with the furniture required for a modern, collaborative technology space. The scale of this emerging opportunity was aspirational. Structural and facility upgrade implications were never conceived in the original Technology Plan and we’d achieved our campaign goal which only budgeted the basic computer acquisition for the Mac Lab.
As we communicated the success of the campaign, one of our early donors sensed that our ambition for this project’s influence on the girls went further than the original campaign enabled. Having kicked off the successful campaign, Mark and Barbara Cullen stepped back in to enable the extraordinary. In addition to outfitting the lab with beskpoke furniture befitting a high end computer lab, we will also open up the wall to allow the side-by-side labs to be integrated when necessary. The students and faculty at LFA will be blessed to have the most incredible STEAM Lab available to them in the autumn of 2017.
The Sisters of St. Ann saw an opportunity to give the young women at LFA an opportunity in the sciences in the early 1990s with the establishment of the Science Wing. Donors across our community have shared in this vision and made it possible to roll out a project that will impact every girl at LFA while maintaining widespread accessibility in our Catholic community—core to the mission of the school. We are deeply grateful to all those in our community who have made this possible.