St. Jerome’s benefits from a significant education gift; construction also planned
April 5, 2018

Improvement plans for St. Jerome School also include a new gymnasium.

By Sheila Elliott

Everyone indulges in the fantasy once in a while: holding a winning lottery ticket or having that special card at a parish bingo party. Suddenly real money is yours, and all you have to do is decide how to spend it.

That’s when our inner cynic rises up and whispers, “It never really happens that way, does it?”

It did last month in the offices of St. Jerome Catholic School, 2801 S. Princeton Ave., where—with no advance warning— administrators learned the nearly century-old parish school had won a no strings attached six-figure gift it can spend as school officials decide is best for students. The gift came from the estate of a benefactor who had passed away.

“When I was approached, I was asked, ‘What would you do’ if a big donation was made to the school?” John Segvich, the school’s principal, recalled. His answer: support science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) with up-to-date technology for students, new lesson plans, and training to help staff make the best use of it all.

At the time, he thought the question from an estate representative was nothing more than idle conversation. Only later did he recognize the inquiry as the first step in securing a windfall he hopes will mark a step up in the already high quality education that St. Jerome’s provides.

“I don’t want a penny of it to pay for bills,” the Rev. Ivica Majstorovic, St. Jerome’s pastor, said. The money is a gift to the school and its students, and it has been “designated for one of its most important programs, and that’s the way it will be used,” he said.

Working on plans

Segvich and Fr. Majstorovic learned about the gift in March, noting the specifics of what they want to achieve remain in the works. Significant planning and organization lie ahead.

The family of the deceased benefactor wishes to remain anonymous. The benefactor was a Chicago-area educator with deep roots in St. Jerome’s and the Armour Square community.

The family members considered the gift appropriate because of the benefactor’s educational background. Segvich answered the family’s question about what the money would be used for by suggesting more STEM-based education at St. Jerome’s. The family supported the idea completely, Segvich said.

Though officials must work out many details, Segvich said the school will start by buying new iPads for a single grade level and then turn to Loyola University Chicago’s Greely College of Education for advice in developing new lesson plans and training the school’s teachers so that students will receive the greatest educational benefit.

Segvich said excitement generated by the financial windfall and emphasis on STEM do not mean the school will overlook traditional academic fields such as art and history. On the contrary, he wants greater interdisciplinary emphasis, with every academic field involved to some degree with STEM, particularly in using iPads. That wish might require creative thinking, he admitted.

“This is not about an ‘either or’ approach to education,” he said. “I want to protect art, too,” as well as other academic areas. “But we want kids to realize that they will be learning more and learning in different ways,” Segvich added.

St. Jerome School will demolish a former convent and add a new building to house the school’s pre-school program.

Starting with fifth-graders

Once St. Jerome has the new iPads in hand and its staff trained, fifth-graders in the 2018-19 school year will take the front lines, he said. As they become familiar with the equipment and new approach, he hopes they will to see changes in their classroom work, where statistics and computation done on an iPad, for example, can lead to better understanding about the impact of history and other subjects. In the same manner, educators could use STEM-based education and the iPads in particular as a graphic design tool to create innovative packaging for science-based products.

Segvich also wants more opportunities for cooperative learning, suggesting that in some instances students in different grade levels might work together on the same project, building teams, testing hypotheses, evaluating, and communicating. St. Jerome students already enjoy comfort with computer-assisted education: depending on grade level, students may work with Chromebooks or another type of computer, he said.

The gift comes after school leaders initiated plans for a three phase building program that begins this June when workers demolish the former convent building near the school. Construction personnel will clear the space and erect a new building to house St. Jerome’s pre-school program. They also will add a gymnasium

Fr. Majstorovic said the new space will open up additional room in the main building. Also, officials can adjust class sizes and possibly accept new enrollees if the Archdiocese of Chicago selects some schools for merger.

For more information, call (312) 842-7668.