HFCA--First Middle School Program in Illinois to be STEM Certified

Holy Family Catholic Academy (Inverness) has long been regarded as an innovator in educating students in 2-year-old preschool through grade 8. This week that innovation was again recognized and validated. AdvancED, a multinational, non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts rigorous, on-site reviews of educational institutions, named HFCA as the first middle school program in Illinois to earn STEM Certification. This announcement came just weeks after HFCA was awarded a 2017 Blue Ribbon Award as an Exemplary High Performing School by the US Department of Education.

The AdvancED team spent over two days analyzing HFCA's STEM program. They met with 58 students, observed both middle school and elementary school learning environments to measure student engagement, and interviewed key stakeholders including parents and community members to verify HFCA's commitment to connecting students' STEM experiences to the world at large.

States Principal Kate O'Brien, "AdvancED STEM Certification really assesses the quality, rigor and substance of our middle school program as measured against a highly regarded, research-based framework. We are delighted the AdvancED review team validated the work of our amazing teachers as they continually pursue academic excellence and prepare our students for high school and beyond."

While the team was formally reviewing the HFCA middle school program, they also visited elementary classrooms to gain an understanding of the entire school's focus on teaching critical thinking skills and differentiated instruction. Their findings stated, "The AdvancED STEM Certification Team was impressed with the school's inquiry-based learning environment which prepares the middle school learners to jump into the STEM program with confidence, curiosity, and enthusiasm!" This validation was shared by HFCA parent Meg Garcia who stated, "We have one child in middle school and one child in the elementary grades so we really appreciated that AdvancED recognized that HFCA begins preparing students for their future the moment they walk into the school."

Assistant Principal Laura Clark who spearheaded the certification process explained that the AdvancED review process looked at not only the science, technology, engineering and math curriculum but also looked at the softer skills developed at HFCA. "Our AdvancED STEM Certification validated our technical STEM curriculum along with the skills of creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. All skills needed to succeed in a global workplace."

Reflecting on being the first middle school program in Illinois to achieve certification, Principal O'Brien agreed with feedback from the AdvancED Review Team, "This certification has been earned by HCFA's learners, educators, parents, and partners who continually pursue academic excellence." But O'Brien took it a step further and added, "This is not a 'one and done' event. We are excited to implement recommendations from AdvancED to further improve our student-centered approach to education and together continue to develop thinkers, leaders grounded in faith."

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