ORLANDO | Fredalina Aybar, a middle school teacher from the Diocese of Orlando’s sister diocese in the Dominican Republic, gazed intently at a cross-sectioned piece of okra, exploring the various parts of the plant.
Aybar was in the United States Nov. 4-14 to observe STEM (science technology, engineering, mathematics) classes and laboratories in six Catholic schools across Central Florida. Her visit was made possible through a nearly $69,000 grant from the Ruckstuhl Foundation to help build STEM labs in diocesan schools in the remote, mountain villages of the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana.
On the day Aybar visited St. Teresa Catholic School in Titusville, seventh-grade students were classifying several fruits as part of their morning science class. Aybar was especially intrigued by the okra because this was the first time she had seen it.
In addition to St. Teresa, Aybar, accompanied by Marianne Rhode, a volunteer mission advocate with the diocesan Mission Office, visited science labs at St. Paul Catholic School in Leesburg, St. Joseph Catholic School in Winter Haven, Holy Family Catholic School in Orlando, and Annunciation Catholic Academy in Altamonte Springs.
The intent of her visits was to help gauge what would be needed to make STEM labs a reality in the Dominican Republic. More teachers from the Caribbean nation are slated to visit the United States in the future.
“Scientific theory will become a lived reality for our village students,” said Ursuline Sister Bernadette Mackay, director of the Mission Office. “For students, the learned scientific concepts will become practical and significant. Furthermore, having a laboratory in the school will enable the students to expand their horizons further and to begin to consider careers in the medical field.”
The grant will also help purchase equipment, train teachers and allow mentors from the Diocese of Orlando to assist with the first lab. Sister Mackay hopes the initial project will be complete in the fall of 2019, with additional labs established in the years to come.
“We will build a lab for students to do experiments and we will be happy,” Aybar said. “We have a lot of dreams.”
Caldwell is the director of marketing, central region, for the diocesan Office of Catholic Schools.