By LOU PONSI     10/17/2023

Students at St. Anne School in Santa Ana have a new high-tech workspace to learn science, technology, engineering and math subjects, commonly known as STEM subjects.

On Sept. 22, with school officials and administrators with Diocese of Orange Schools looking on, Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen cut the ribbon in the entrance to St. Anne’s SmartLab, signifying that the learning center is officially ready for students.

The SmartLab is designed to teach students STEM subjects through hands-on projects and collaboration with classmates.

All St. Anne students from kindergarten through eighth grade will use the science lab with lower grades being teacher directed and the upper grades working more independently, according to Sr. Teresa Lynch, St. Anne’s Principal. Classes will spend one hour a day in the lab and have access to hundreds of experiments, Sr. Lynch said,

“And they will choose what they want to do, so it’s very cooperative.”

The federal funding used to construct the SmartLab was earmarked, in part, for programs designed to recover the lapse in learning caused by the coronavirus pandemic. A portion of funding for the SmartLab project was also provided by John and Barbara Heffernan, who have spent decades supporting the school with monetary and in-kind donations.

John Heffernan’s grandfather Antone Borchard and his brothers Frank and Casper donated the land on which the church and school are located.

St. Anne Church opened in 1923 and the adjacent school opened in 1945.

“I was baptized here,” John Heffernan said. “My parents were married here. I went to school here. My brothers went to school here, and then as the Diocese expanded, we finished our school at Mater Dei.”

The Heffernans donate to the parish regularly and have provided funding for a variety of infrastructure upgrades.

“This is where the need is,” John Heffernan said. “Otherwise, these schools can close and then the whole Catholic education in this community ends.”

A science teacher for 35 years, Barbara Heffernan provided technical input for the SmartLab project and worked with St. Anne teachers on STEM related teaching strategies.

“It takes time to set up for eight stations and have it ready,” she said. So, they can teach, and I can help them. I’m sort of like their assistant.”

The SmartLab is designed to strengthen students’ understanding of STEM subjects while developing workplace skills such as time management and project planning. Areas of exploration include circuitry, manufacturing technology, mechanics, robotics, data analysis and media arts.

“Students don’t all enter at the same pace, as far as understanding everything,” Heffernan added. “And that’s why we have these different categories.”

The SmartLab, when combined with the school’s sports and cultural activities such as the Mariachi program, makes for an all-around, community centric learning experience, according to Brad Snyder, Associate Superintendent of Educational Programs for Diocese of Orange Catholic Schools.

“We’re proud of St. Anne’s,” Snyder said. “We’re proud of the community and the difference they’re making in students’ lives.”