By Katie V. Jones
St. Mary of the Mills School announced on Aug. 29 that it was officially certified as a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) school by Cognia, a nonprofit which provides accreditation and certification services. St. Mary of the MIlls marked the accomplishment with a short ceremony that included the unveiling of the school’s STEM-certified sign.
“We are incredibly proud to be the first school in the Archdiocese of Washington to be recognized for this honor and take this opportunity to renew our dedication to a faith- and future-focused program,” said Jennifer Castaneda, principal of the school, in her opening remarks.
Lauren Casserly, who coordinates the program, noted in remarks prior to the event that the school had been working for more than seven years to earn the accreditation.
“It is a very strict standard and is a high bar to achieve,” Casserly said. “It is a really cool thing to be a part of.”
To qualify for certification, St. Mary of the Mills had to offer a robust curriculum in a supportive and creative STEM atmosphere. Casserly noted that the school has even broader goals; indeed, they’ve added an arts component to the STEM program, thus advancing to STEAM designation. The school’s next step will be to fully incorporate a religion curriculum, advancing the school to STREAM status.
“We had to prove that our school was not just filled with a passion for future-focused education but that it held up in comparison to the network of one of the largest and longest standing accreditation services in the world,” Casserly told the crowd. “This sign and adding the Cognia logo to our repertoire is a small mark that encompasses the tireless efforts of our students, staff and community, led by an administrative team ready to take on expanding a program.”
After the ceremony, guests were invited to visit the STEM room, where students answered questions and talked about their various achievements, including a team of four winning second place in the people’s choice award in the 2022 world Rube Goldberg Machine Contest which challenges teams to complete a simple task in a complex way. The team of then-seventh graders created an elaborate system that involved using dominos, books, marbles and rolls of tape to open a book.
“We barely made that,” said Katarina Raven, 13 and now an eighth grader. “The last day it still wasn’t working properly, The last-minute run worked out for us.”
“We were so shocked to get to the top 10,” said Payten Holt, also 13 and an eighth grader. “It was so exciting.”