John F. Kennedy Catholic School Reveals State of the School
Rajha Bradley sits at a computer at John F. Kennedy Catholic School — watching his screen react as his fingers tap a keyboard.
History? English? Science? Not even close.
He’s adjusting his website that promotes a babysitting service staffed by high school students.
When he’s made aware of senior citizens using an app to hire teens to do yard chores, his eyes get big, aware there’s a new opportunity for his student services website.
This is the Think Lab at JFK.
It’s less a class and more a workshop. You’d be hard-pressed to find where the teacher stands and where the class sits. Learning happens everywhere as new-tech stools slide around the room as students merge in this huddle, then another huddle, then another.
This is Year 2 for Think Lab. That it exists at all is cool. That the library was ejected to make space for this free-form learning environment — well, that’s Alyse Consiglio — the principal at JFK.
“Our relationship is: she says what she wants and I go find the money,” said JFK President Joseph Kenneally.
The pair are in overdrive as the 2018-19 school year begins.
Kenneally delivered the district’s State of the District address Thursday, and it’s a 587-student system with momentum to brag about. He’s been on the job four years; she two.
Think Lab is among many successes. More work is to be done. Capturing momentum is afoot.
Their graduating class of 39 last spring contrasts with nearly 70 seventh-graders and two classes of every grade in the lower grades.
But the program momentum and class-size growth are not the most important Xs and Os for Kenneally — a former football coach.
He’s excited by the people they are creating.
Soup kitchen work, animal food drives, lemonade stands, athletics, new businesses run by teens .. all centered on developing the human being.
“Everything we do is Christ-centered. It’s rooted in our catholic faith. Everything we do, we do to be servant leaders. We bring them in here; we give it to them; then we ask them to go out and be the model. Be Christ.”
Kenneally — with the intensity you’d expect of a coach — rattles off what the students have done, and then catches himself.
“Everyone’s going to say ‘well – you drag them kicking and screaming.’ You know what — we don’t. Even our non-Catholic kids eat up the faith aspect of being here. To sit in a class and know that someone cares — not that you can shoot a ball or run a ball. They care because you are a human being. You are a model of Christ.”
In Kenneally’s first couple years, the goal was just to stabilize the facilities.
Paint, landscaping, windows, tennis courts, soccer fields and more were the curb-appeal items that were addressed.
“In Catholic education, you always know you won’t have the flashiest building. But you have to give the kids something to make their own and be proud of.”
There’s a planned study to bring the pre-K-to -5th grade students from the Blessed Sacrament school campus to the main upper campus.
With the facility getting its attention, focus shifted to the students. Kenneally is proud to say that JFK students were the first in Trumbull County to each have their own technical device — ”1-to-1 tech.”
Every kindergartner has an iPad, grades 1-8 have Chromebooks stored in the classroom. When a student enters 9th grade, they are given their own Chromebook for all of high school and beyond.
“When you graduate and go to college — take your Chromebook with you,” he said.
Robotics, stop-motion animation, 3D printing and simulations development all happen in classes. A junior high project last year had the students partnering with NASA.
Mrs. Consiglio’s vision of an entrepreneurship class became The Think Lab. It is equipped with a large vinyl printer, six Apple computers, video media production, and more. They’ve managed gas stations and car washes.
“Kids have to design, sell, produce, bill, collect — all these things that are an integral part of life, they are learning in this class,” he said.
But one business achievement for the class brings a smile to his face like a football coach who pulled off a flea-flicker for a touchdown.
“We’ve done levy signs for other schools,” he laughs. “Which was really cool: ‘Ok, sure we can (make levy signs) .. But can we put somewhere on it that your levy sign was produced by Warren JFK?’”
No client has obliged.
There’s an energy in the halls at JFK. While the tenets of education and Catholicism abound, the gait is something like a family reunion.
As we head to The Think Lab, Kenneally asks no less than five students to remind Mrs. Consiglio to meet him at the Lab.
“One of them will remember to tell her,” he mumbles like a coach.
True to her style, Mrs. Consiglio is already in the classroom when we get there.
About the environment, Kenneally says:
“We’re turning pages — not so much. We like to tell our parents that what we’re training the kids for is that the world is their classroom. Make our kids think about others before themselves. We’ll give you the tools to succeed. But then you must take those tools and make the world a better place than how you found it.”
Is it working?
The JFK Class of 2018 — 39 students — obtained $3.1 million in college scholarships.
“Do the math on what you’re getting per capita. I’ll put (the scholarship total) up against anyone.”
The environment is also personal. “My kids” gets used a lot by Kenneally.
He gets fatherly with one student. It’s a giddy football player (later that night, they would win on an outstanding last-play gamble.)
But it’s not a fun talk. The student was not clean-shaven as is school policy. Kenneally, was animated and colorful as he undressed the student — not an embarrassing episode for the student as he was smiling and nodding. But a line of expectation was drawn.
He’s proud to know the names of most of the 587 students
He’s proud, too, that he’s not just a school president, but also a dad.
That Class of 2018 included his daughter, and that $3.1 million in scholarships included a sizeable award for her to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York where just 8 percent of applicants get accepted.
“I’m a parent. I see what you see. I see when my daughter comes home happy; socially involved. I see she’s getting a chance to live her dream. And when your child hurts, I hurt.”
He said presenting his daughter her high school diploma was a life reward — even if it completely failed.
Their high school plan has always been she gets treated no differently than other students, and that was still the plan as she was to receive her diploma. Always the coach, Kenneally said they even talked through the steps. She was to cross the stage. They would shake hands, and ….
“She collapsed into my shoulder. She was crying. I got emotional. I then said “You gotta go.”
History might show the 2018 student of the year at JFK was not necessarily the valedictorian or the quarterback or the 36 on the ACT.
It might be the next kid in that graduation line that day.
Kenneally laughs at the memory of the senior who was next after his daughter and who likely saved graduation.
“He comes up next and says ‘Are we hugging too, or you want me to just keep walking?’”
At JFK, that’s the human instincts they’re teaching. And loving.