Fenwick Launches Engineering and Innovation Laboratory

Facility represents the ‘stem’ of flowering course offerings in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

By Mark Vruno

Science Department Co-chair Mr. Dave Kleinhans (right) works with a student on a laptop computer in the new STEM-focused facility.

Fenwick High School has ushered in its 91st academic year with a new Engineering & Innovation Laboratory. At the Open House in late September, prospective students and their families had an opportunity to see the modular classroom (Room 57), which features 25 new drafting and programming laptop computers, six 3D printers and five interactive, “smart” monitors. These technology equipment upgrades are a major part of the more than $70,000 investment in the refurbished lab space.

“We are teaching in the lab to packed computer-science classes,” Science Dept. Co-chair Dave Kleinhans reports. In an effort to prepare students for business and STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) degrees in college, he adds, many of these courses were co-developed with a University of Illinois, student-run consulting organization. At professional-development sessions in mid-September, faculty members received training on the three-dimensional (additive-manufacturing) printers. 

Principal Peter Groom adds, “The development of our Computer Science curriculum has been a collaborative effort. We put a lot of faith in our faculty, and they really ran with it. In some cases, our teachers took existing courses and tailored them to the 21st-century world,” Mr. Groom explains. “In other cases, we started brand new courses. The opening of the new lab is just the beginning of a facilities transformation that will allow our excellent CS/Physics faculty to maximize the student experience.”

Fenwick’s Engineering & Innovation Lab “is what software labs look like at some of the companies I still communicate with in the private sector,” notes Kleinhans, who started up three software firms over two decades before embarking on a career change to become a teacher. IBM (Cognos) acquired one of his companies, but Kleinhans insists that teaching and mentoring young people bring him far more satisfaction and joy “than any bonus check for selling a company or being a CEO.”

Mr. Don Nelson (center) joined the Fenwick faculty this year to help run the computer-science segments of the new lab.

Joining the Fenwick faculty for this school year is Donald Nelson, who is “taking over a lot of our CS [computer science] classes,” according to Kleinhans. “Principal Groom made a great, strategic new hire in Nelson,” Kleinhans believes. “Don is a 30-year business person/nuclear engineer who wants to be involved with students as a second career.” Nelson, who previously has taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology and DePaul Prep, holds a B.S. in engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an M.S. in computer science engineering from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. 

Student input and involvement

“It was inspiring to watch Dave Kleinhans empower recent graduates and current Friars to be project managers for the new lab,” adds Math Teacher and alumnus Kevin Roche ’05.Kevin Brosnan ’20, Spencer Gallagher ’19 and Jack Vomacka ’18 [helped] make it all happen. They met with architects, researched the best equipment, presented to the Board and even were present for the painting and carpeting subcontractors to ensure the job got done. That was my favorite part of it all: those three gain valuable project-management experience thanks to Dave.

Continue reading “Fenwick Launches Engineering and Innovation Laboratory”

Continuous Learning for Fenwick Faculty and Staff

In-house Professional Development, which began in earnest during the 2016-17 school year, helps our teachers sharpen their skill sets.

By Mark Vruno

Starting in the fall of 2016, Fenwick’s administration implemented its own Professional Development (PD) program for faculty and staff. The ongoing teacher education program is spearheaded by Assistant Principal Laura Pendleton and Digital Learning Specialist Bryan Boehm.

Ms. Laura Pendleton, Assistant Principal

“At Fenwick, through the Dominican pillar of study, we do an excellent job of instilling the value of life-long learning in our students,” says Ms. Pendleton, who also is the Orchestra Director at school. “The in-house professional development program was created out of the need to provide opportunities for our faculty to spend time in community learning new skills and sharing expertise with each other. It has grown a great deal in its first three years and, in the future, will serve to be a space for our faculty to continue to work together to model life-long learning and exhibit their own love of learning to our students.”

Mr. Bryan Boehm, Digital Learning Specialist

Mr. Boehm adds, “Fenwick students are always being challenged to learn new ways of gathering information and data. Our faculty need to have the same experiences to be our leading force in their fields and subjects. Peer-led courses have been great for teachers to learn from one another and collaborate,” he continues. “Offering new perspectives, new experiences and alternative ways to teach the material that they have so much success with over their career will only benefit the students.”

Math Teacher and sophomore football assistant coach Matt Barabasz is one of four PD faculty leaders. Last year he conducted a session about how teachers can “flip” their classrooms. This technique “allows the students to watch and learn at home, while we then use instructional time to engage in meaningful conversations and applications. This session went into detail on how I use this process within my mathematics course, when applicable,” explains Mr. Barabasz, who came to Fenwick two years ago from St. Patrick High School in Chicago.

Contemplation: Golden Apple-winning Theology Teacher and Fenwick blogger John Paulett (center) inquires about a tech topic at a March 8 break-out PD session.

This school year one of his sessions is how to use Google Forms to facilitate parent communication. “Families are incredibly important within a student’s learning process,” Barabasz acknowledges. “Without the support of families, we as educators cannot fully unlock a student’s potential. This series went into how I communicate regularly with parents using Google Forms and how I keep the parents in the loop, on a weekly basis, on their students’ progress.”

Kudos from faculty participants

Now in its third year of customized PD, the faculty/staff sessions at Fenwick are wide ranging and run all year long on most Tuesdays and Thursdays, either at 7:30 a.m. or during lunch periods. Required to attend at least three sessions per academic year, most teachers seem to be buying into the idea. “I feel that the PD sessions are a great opportunity for a teacher to learn new ideas and strategies on how to become more effective,” says Spanish Instructor and alumnus Jim Reardon ’86. “Fenwick teachers are willing to share their time, knowledge and expertise with other faculty members. The sessions are not very long [about 25 minutes each] but allow you the opportunity to learn and develop new ideas.”

Spanish Teacher and Fenwick alumnus Jim Reardon.

Mr. Reardon add that he has taken PD sessions on Schoology, the learning-management system employed by Fenwick, as well as on EdPuzzle, which is a way to employ video technology in the classroom. “The PD sessions allow a teacher to better understand a topic, and then it is up to him or her to further develop their understanding and usage of the particular topic,” he notes.

English Department co-worker and alumna Theresa Steinmeyer ’12 attended Pendleton’s series on William Bender’s Strategies for Increasing Student Engagement as well as some sessions on ways to further incorporate technology into instruction. “As a new faculty member at Fenwick [2018], I have enjoyed these opportunities to continue growing as an educator while getting to know colleagues from other departments,” Ms. Steinmeyer says.

More than 20 PD sessions have been conducted this school year on topics such as:

  1. Schoology Refreshers – Bryan Boehm
  2. Schoology Gradebook Refreshers – Mickey Collins ’03
  3. Magnus Health System – Donna Pape (School Nurse)
  4. Apple Classroom – Tim Menich
  5. Classroom Management with Technology #1 – Alex Holmberg ’05
  6. Fall Book Club – Laura Pendleton
  7. Individual Educations Plans (IEPs) Level 1 – Grace Lilek David ’08
  8. CleverTouch Interactive Displays – Fr. Mike Winkels
  9. Tips & Tricks in Schoology #1 – Holmberg
  10. Dealing with Difficult Conversations – Pendleton
  11. Google Forms for Parent Communication – Matt Barabasz
  12. Learning Differences – Kyle Kmiecik ’00
  13. iPad Basic Maintenance / Troubleshooting – Boehm
  14. Assessment Strategies Through Schoology #1 – Holmberg
  15. IEP Level 2 – David
  16. Writing Across the Curriculum – John Schoeph ’95
  17. Pythonista for iPad & iPhone – Dave Kleinhans
  18. Tips & Tricks in Schoology #2 – Holmberg
  19. Science PD Series
  20. EdPuzzle – Brian Jerger
  21. Classroom Management with Technology #2 – Holmberg
  22. Assessment Strategies Through Schoology #2 – Holmberg
  23. iPad Basic Maintenance / Troubleshooting Level 2 – Boehm

In early April, Barabasz led a session on using “Google Forms for Class Data Collection” while Math Dept. colleague Kevin Roche ’05 is coordinating the Spring Book Club. Pendleton and Boehm then wrap up this school year with “Differentiated Instruction” and “Apple Classroom Level 2,” respectively.

PD Leader Mr. Alex Holmberg (at right, Fenwick Class of 2005) helps to “train” social studies colleague Brian Jerger.

“I try to run sessions with practical take-aways for teachers to immediately use in their classrooms, regardless of subject area or grade level,” explains fellow PD leader and Social Studies Dept. Chair Alex Holmberg ’05, who also is Fenwick’s Director of Clubs and Activities. “I’ve also tried to tailor specific PD sessions to address needs brought up from our end-of-year iPad Survey last school year. One of the positive aspects of the model of PD that we use is that it allows teachers to present on topics that they see as learning opportunities in their classrooms throughout the school year.”

“It has changed the way I manage my classroom.” – Brian Jerger

Participant and fellow Social Studies Teacher Brian Jerger adds: “The Apple Classroom presentation by Tim Menich has afforded me an easy, hands-off deterrent that has helped curb iPad abuse/distractions in class. It has changed the way I manage my classroom.”

Mr. Brian Jerger teaches U.S. History and Western Civilization at Fenwick.

Mr. Jerger, who joined Fenwick in 2017, also enjoyed Laura Pendleton’s Book Club presentation. “It provided a setting for teachers to come together and discuss the interesting methods, techniques and philosophies we all utilize in our classrooms,” he says. “In that same vein, I think the greatest benefit of the Professional Development series is it exposes the faculty to all the interesting work we are doing in the classroom that we do not normally get to see from each other. Due to all the ways in which teachers are pulled and stressed for time (and our humble natures), it is incredibly easy for us to get trapped in our own individual silos leaving us unaware of the great work our colleagues are doing. The Professional Development series pulls back that curtain, to some degree, and allows us to share some of this great work with one another.”

Continue reading “Continuous Learning for Fenwick Faculty and Staff”

Alumna Anne Smedinghoff Is a ‘Beautiful Soul’

Fellow 2005 Fenwick graduate and Math Teacher Kevin Roche reflects about his late friend and classmate’s generosity – and her lasting legacy.

By Kevin Roche ’05

The Chicago Sun-Times headline the week Fenwick alumna Ms. Smedinghoff was tragically killed in early April 2013. She was 25.

It was about the time that Anne was killed that a show called “The Newsroom” came out. Aaron Sorkin started his hit HBO show with a piercing diatribe by the star Will McAvoy, contesting, “America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”

I concur; polarizing viewpoints from those that refuse to find the middle ground, lackluster statistics on our health, academic performance, and mass incarceration, and embarrassing stories about our elected leaders are a few of the examples that have me nodding along with the tirade. The character played by Jeff Daniels ends his rant hopefully with, “but it can be.”

Anne is my ‘but it can be.’

Anne was killed in a terrorist attack delivering books to a local school in the Zabul Province of Afghanistan as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer in 2013. She was a part of the United States’ diplomacy efforts to create lasting and sustainable peace in Afghanistan by fostering positive relationships. Anne died a martyr-like death, being killed while spreading nothing but goodness; she was delivering books to young kids.

Anne was a classmate of mine for 12 years of our young lives. From crowning The Virgin Mary her 8th-grade year to riding her bike 4,000 miles in college to raise money for cancer research, she exemplified, even before her foreign service career, what makes me so proud to be an American. Anne “stood up for what was right, she fought for moral reasons, cared for her neighbors, never beat her chest, reached for the stars, aspired to intelligence; didn’t belittle it, and was courageous,” just what Will McAvoy commended America’s past for.

Although it is the better part of a decade that we have been without Anne, I see her everywhere in my life. On one of my running routes, there is a black and white portrait of her (top and at left) along the train tracks. At St. Luke’s, I see her parents who are regulars and ministers during the Mass. Coaching girls’ cross country, the program she was a part of, I see Anne in the supportive, altruistic teammates. Walking to my parent’s house, I pass by the Anne Smedinghoff Memorial Garden at the public library. I see Anne when I talk to her teachers like Mary Beth Logas who encourages her students to understand the system in order to do the most good. I see Anne in my colleague, fellow ’05 grad, and dear friend of Anne, Crissy (Tallarico) Lilek, who exudes the same serene magnanimity that Anne did. I see Anne everywhere.

At each athletic event, during “The Star Spangled Banner,” I think of my contemporaries and former students that have selflessly dedicated themselves to serve our country. Different faces come up each time and I beam with pride knowing such wonderful people. Without fail, Anne Smedinghoff crosses my mind during, “the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” I become emotional as I imagine the attack on her as she was about to donate those books, but I also see the American flag raised high over Lake and Lathrop by fire truck ladders as her family leaves with her in casket after the funeral Mass at St. Luke’s.

Continue reading “Alumna Anne Smedinghoff Is a ‘Beautiful Soul’”

Students-Turned-Teachers Help to Advance the Friars’ Mission

Why is it that such a surprisingly high number of former students return to Fenwick to teach future alumni?

By Mark Vruno

Presently, there are approximately 140 teachers, administrators and staff members at Fenwick High School, and 38 of them have walked the hallowed halls in Oak Park as students. Over the course of the school’s nine decades in existence, many more former pupils have returned to work and serve. “People come back to Fenwick because of the impact the school had on their lives,” believes Social Studies/History Department Chair Alex Holmberg ’05. “Whether that impact was inside or outside the classrooms, Fenwick leaves a powerful impression on everyone,” says Mr./Coach Holmberg, who triples as the school’s clubs/activities director and the defensive coordinator of the varsity football team.

Alex Holmberg ’05

“The opportunity to shape how future students approach the rest of their lives is incredibly powerful,” he notes, “and that potential draws so many people back into the building. Thinking about that opportunity to help prepare and motivate future Friars is what brought me back to Fenwick, and that thought is what motivates me to continue to help the school in whatever way I can.”

Principal Peter Groom, who has taught Friars since the 1980s, reports that many of the Fenwick graduates he has hired, he had in the classroom. “We get to know our students during their time here,” Mr. Groom explains. “We get to know their intelligence, their values, their passion and their work ethic. Typically, our graduates are also committed to our mission. When we hire people who are committed to our mission, we hire people who want to remain a part of our community for a long time. One of the keys to building a mission-based school is to have teachers who are committed and who demonstrate the aforementioned values.”

Roger Finnell ’59, a Fenwick mathematics instructor for more than five decades, concurs with fellow alumnus Holmberg:  “Many alumni teach here because they remember their experience at Fenwick as being something special and want to contribute towards continuing the traditions here,” reflects Mr. Finnell, who is Math Department Chair.

Roger Finnell in 1968.

“I knew I wanted to teach math when I started college,” shares Finnell, who also is the man behind the scenes of Black Friars Guild stage productions. “In my senior year at Loyola, after I finished student teaching at Lane Tech in Chicago, I heard about an opening at St. Ignatius, so I made an appointment for an interview. But then I thought I might as well also inquire at Fenwick. I did my Fenwick interview and was offered a position here, so, seeing this as a great opportunity, I quickly cancelled my St. Ignatius interview and the rest is history!”

Representing the Classes of 1959 to 2012

Kevin Roche ’05

Holmberg and math/computer science teacher Kevin Roche ’05 are two of thousands of Friars taught by Mr. Finnell over the past 55 years. “I think that there are a large amount of Friars returning because they had a great experience at the school, believe in what the school does, and want to be a part of ‘steering the ship’ for future generations,” chimes in Mr. Roche, who also coaches cross country. “We have Friars in different aspects of the school (operations, administration, faculty and development) who all had different experiences here yet all want to give back. I believe that this influx of alumni teachers is also a sign of our generation: millennials have a great desire to find meaning and purpose in their work. That is their highest motivator and education is a career that offers immense purpose and validation for the work through strong relationships.”

Grace Liliek ’08

Grace Lilek ’08, who is in her third year of teaching social studies at Fenwick, captures the sentiment of many of her colleagues who also are alumni: “I was inspired to pursue a career in education based on my experiences at Fenwick,” says Ms. Lilek, who also is a learning resource coordinator. “I think experience is the first reason so many of us have come back to Fenwick to teach. You will not meet two Fenwick graduates who had the exact same experience. You can be an athlete or a thespian or participate in academic competitions, and always find your niche. You can also take on all three of those roles and thrive. It is an honor to come back to Fenwick as a teacher and share these experiences with our students.” Lilek continues:

Continue reading “Students-Turned-Teachers Help to Advance the Friars’ Mission”

High-Tech Education Came to Fenwick a Quarter-Century Ago

Where in the World Wide Web has “FenTech” gone and, more importantly, where is it headed? Answers can be found in the growth of the school’s Bernard F. Brennan Computer Science Laboratory and CS programs.

By Mark Vruno

In 1993, could we have fathomed high-school educators teaching entire courses to teenagers on tablet computers? iPads weren’t even a tech “thing” 25 years ago, yet this past school year at Fenwick, the “Introduction to Computer Science” (CS) class was taught entirely on Apple iPads, reports Science Department Co-Chair Dave Kleinhans.

Turning Fenwick’s tech visions into realities over the past two-and-a-half decades has been made possible, in large part, by initial, generous funding from alumnus Bernard Brennan ’56, former chief executive (from 1985-96) of the Montgomery Ward department-store chain. Bernie is the younger brother of the late Edward Brennan ’51, former CEO of Sears, Roebuck and Co. Ed and Bernie, the Brennan Bros., are a couple of Friars’ heavy-hitters:  Bernie is a member of the school’s Board of Directors as well as a 1986 Fenwick Hall of Fame inductee; Ed followed him to the school HOF in ’91.

A peek inside Fenwick’s Bernard F. Brennan Computer Science Laboratory, which officially was dedicated on February 28, 1993.

Twenty-five years ago, the younger Brennan and his family made a major leadership donation to create the Bernard F. Brennan Computer Science Laboratory, which was dedicated in early 1993. Students at the time, as well as members of the Fenwick Mothers’ Club, also contributed financially to the lab’s creation. Now 80 years old, Bernie Brennan’s blue-sky vision of “computerization projects” today partly resides in the virtual “Cloud,” of course. But keep in mind that, in early 1993, while email may have been a mainstream form of communication at most corporations, the Internet was a fledgling technology. Ever so slowly, companies were beginning to launch new, online branding devices called “websites.” The dot-com bubble (1997-2001) was still a few years off.

For Fenwick’s new Brennan Computer Lab, initial purchases in the mid-1990s included hardware, such as AST Bravo workstations and Netstore SCSI CD-ROM subsystems (used for information retrieval long before web browsers and cloud computing became popular), as well as software, electrical upgrades and accessories, including printers and furniture. The lab was designed to be used by the Math and Science Departments as well as the Library and the English Department. Tech-hungry teachers welcomed the new writing-lab segment, which featured desktop publishing systems for the Blackfriars Yearbook, The Wick student newspaper and staff newsletters.

Bernie Brennan’s 1956 yearbook portrait.

“It was clear to me that we were moving into the technology world at that point in time, and I wanted Fenwick to be in the leadership position,” Mr. Brennan reflected recently. “Ironically, I have been heavily involved in the technology sector for the past 20 years! It is easy to give back to Fenwick and our Dominican friends as they have done so much for the Brennan family. Fenwick’s focus on intellectual curiosity, discipline and uncompromising ethics is a beacon for us all.”

“Fenwick’s focus on intellectual curiosity, discipline and uncompromising ethics is a beacon for us all.” -Bernie Brennan ’56

New Millennium’s Web of Tech

Freshman math students in Mr. Andrew Thompson’s class, using their iPads (2017 photo).

It is interesting to note that each of Fenwick’s 1,152 incoming students this fall will have an iPad in her or his backpack. (Members of the outgoing Class of 2018 are the first Friars to have had tablet computers in their collective possession all four years.) With improved anti-cheating security measures in place, some high schools in Illinois already have adopted online final exams. Fenwick teachers have administered online quizzes and tests via their students’ iPads, but most educators in the building are proceeding with caution on that electronic front.

Since 2000, Fenwick has had a Technology Services Department in place that today is staffed by four full-time employees. These high-tech staff members manage the school’s more than 400 computer systems and a highly secure Wi-Fi network as well as some 30 switches and 122 access points — not to mention the telephone and email systems and 92 copy machines/printers! Associate Tech Director Fr. Mike Winkels, O.P. also feeds content to a total of six electronic bulletin boards displayed in the cafeteria, outside the library and elsewhere throughout the school.

Fenwick Technology Director Ernesto Nieto

Fenwick’s students, faculty and staff alike often take this tech group’s behind-the-scenes work for granted. Even those of us old enough to remember slow modems and non-connectivity have come to expect our 21st-century, networked, electronic devices to work – “magically” — with no glitches. “We do a lot of things that people probably don’t think about,” says Director of Technology Services Ernesto Nieto, who came to Fenwick in ’01 by way of St. Ignatius College Prep, the Dominican Conference Center, the Shrine of St. Jude and DePaul University.

Continue reading “High-Tech Education Came to Fenwick a Quarter-Century Ago”

Faculty Focus: Meet Science Teacher and Alumnus Kevin Roche

Science Teacher Kevin Roche is the subject of our monthly series focusing on Fenwick’s fabulous, award-winning faculty.

What is your educational background?

After graduating Fenwick, I attended U of I to get my degree in civil engineering. I also minored in Spanish there. I also am about to get [fingers crossed!!] my Masters in the Art of Teaching Math from Dominican University in May.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

I was a technology consultant for Accenture (a consulting and professional services firm). My main role over those two years was working with electric utilities to better engage customers with their usage information. We designed and implemented online portals and in-home devices that would update in near real time so customers would see how their actions impact their energy. We also worked on the social science side to better motivate customers to save on their energy usage.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment? Continue reading “Faculty Focus: Meet Science Teacher and Alumnus Kevin Roche”