A big day for St. James Elementary School in Washington

Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Thomas Zinkula asks students from St. James Elementary School in Washington a question during Mass Oct. 6 at St. James Church.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

WASHINGTON — St. James Elementary knocked and the door was opened to the school to receive a $10,000 grant for Science, Tech­nology, Engin­eering and Math (STEM) materials. Students, teachers and other staff celebrated the good news Oct. 6 in the presence of Bishop Thomas Zinkula and Diocesan Superintendent of Schools Lynne Devaney.

Bishop Zinkula pre­si­d­ed at the children’s Mass, visited classrooms with Devaney and went to recess with some of the younger students. He also participated in a TV commercial produced at St. James to honor kindergarten teacher Julie Timmins.

The big day began with the children’s Mass, during which Father Bernie Weir, pastor of St. James Parish proclaimed the Gospel from Luke, a parable about the importance of being persistent in prayer. This passage had special meaning for the school: “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11: 9-11).


During his homily, Bishop Zinkula quizzed the kids about their understanding of God’s place in their lives. “When you have a broken bone, where do you go?” the bishop asked. One child volunteered, “The hospital.” “When you have a math problem, who do you go to?” the bishop asked. After students responded to that and other questions, Bishop Zinkula told them to remember, “Whenever we need help, God is with us. God is there in a big way for us.”

God answers prayers but not always in the way or time that people expect, the bishop said. He assured the children and their teachers that God wants the best for everyone. God answered the knock on the door from St. James Elementary Principal Rebecca Clarahan, who applied for a grant from the Washington Community School District (WCSD) Foundation. She made a modest request initially and was encouraged to apply for a $10,000 grant, she said.

Meghan Hamilton, a WCSD Foundation board member, St. James alumna and parent, presented the check during a school assembly with Bishop Zinkula and Devaney present. The funding was part of the Delmar Yoder Estate and endowed to the WCSD Foundation. “Mr. Yoder was passionate about STEM and his intentions were for the funds to support students of all ages of the Washington Com­munity School District in this area. Since 98% of St. James’ students transfer to the Washington schools after grade five, the foundation concluded that this project would fall in line with Mr. Yoder’s goals,” Hamilton said.

Students will have the opportunity to learn hands-on about robotics, crystals, hydropower, structural engineering, physics and pre-coding because of the grant. “Last year our first-grade students started working with basic coding in our technology class,” said Clarahan. “Now we can have hands-on learning that will take place with all of our students, with the ability for progression from easy to more challenging activities, especially with coding.”

Students will gain exposure to how real-life applications and their core subjects work together. The grant will allow them to have early instruction in chemistry, inertia, friction and physics, subjects not normally covered until later in middle or high school.

“Students love science and hands-on activities. One of our responsibilities is to prepare students for jobs that we do not even know exist yet,” Clarahan said.

Some of the funding would also go toward a collaborative art-related initiative with Hillcrest Academy in Kalona. Colorful artistic renditions of gears of different sizes decorate the school lobby, “gearing up” for the project.

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