Holy Ghost Preparatory School: a well-earned reputation for academic excellence

Want to learn more about how the Holy Ghost Preparatory School: is at the forefront of innovation?

Holy Ghost Preparatory School is a private Catholic all-boys college prep school in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1897, it has a well-earned reputation for excellence, which has become even more pronounced and developed since the 1990s.

At that point, the school undertook a long-range planning and implementation process. Over the course of several years, Holy Ghost Prep built an extensive track and field event complex, as well as a new hall to house classrooms, a library, and computer labs. In the early 2000s, they renovated some existing space to include a new weight and fitness center, as well as new locker and bathroom facilities.

And in 2017, Holy Ghost Prep remodeled an extensive space that had been mostly unused and opened the doors to The Brennan Family Innovation Center, or BFIC. Following this they updated the rooms above the makerspace in a similar vein, in terms of aesthetics. These rooms, including biology, chemistry, and physics laboratories, have been transformed into a cohesive set of rooms known as the "STEM Tower": a cutting-edge set of purpose-designed laboratories that provides students with tools, equipment, and space to integrate design thinking into all their work.

Kevin Bushek: engineering enabler

He makes it his business to empower students to achieve their ambitions. Kids will come and say, “I want to make something for chemistry for this project.” He'll brainstorm with them, and if the student is willing to put in the work to learn, he's willing to put in the work to teach them. He says, “I'll show you how to do it. If I don't know how myself, I'll learn how to do it, and then I'll teach you.”

It's about creating a love for making. He finds it very rewarding when kids come in who were nervous at first, but as they gain experience in the makerspace they also gain confidence, and end up spending more and more time there. 
‍Kevin Bushek, the creative guardian of the BFIC, is an enabler. As the engineering teacher, Holy Ghost Prep has given him free rein to develop his curriculum, and that translates into a thorough engineering program for the 9th- to 12th-grade students he teaches.

The Brennan Family Innovation Center

And no wonder these young scholars want to spend more time in the makerspace! This state-of-the-art facility is a hub of activity and innovation. It boasts a plethora of tools, equipment, and supplies.  As well as 7 3D printers, students have access to two laser cutters, a CNC machine for routing wood, and a full complement of wood shop equipment, like drill presses, band saws, and chop saws. Over time Kevin has accumulated gear that means he can accommodate nearly every request.

Engineering I, II, III, and now IV

He tells us that Engineering I follows a more traditional class structure, with structured lessons and assignments, as the students need to learn many foundational skills. However, he incorporates a lot of fun into the teaching, and gives students time to explore creatively. He'll give them a few boundaries, of course, but he'll intentionally leave the rubric wide open, and tell them, "You've got a week - show me what you've got!"

He is then available to any student who wants help, but students get to develop their projects according to their own ambitions. He adopts this flexible approach to allow ample space for student creativity and exploration within assignments.
‍Not only has Kevin developed a robust engineering curriculum at Holy Ghost Prep, but it is continually evolving. Students start in grade 10 in a course Kevin designed to help them “think like an engineer”. It’s all about learning and iterating. He says, "It's about learning to not be afraid to get it wrong, because getting it wrong is part of the process." He contrasts that mindset with a conventional scholastic setting, where the essence is knowledge for the sake of test scores, and says it takes students a little while to comprehend that part of the class ethos is that it's all right to get it wrong, learn, and try again.

Creativity in phone case design

This creativity is manifested in a popular project: designing a phone holder or phone case. Of course, young people now each have their phone. The variety of phones, combined with the variety of student ideas, means that each student can create a tangible item that serves the same purpose but is radically different from anyone else’s.

It’s a great way to teach Tinkercad and 3D printing, and shows students how a digital design becomes something they can hold and feel. Students learn they each can solve a real-life problem. And Kevin sees the whole gamut of designs: from a block with a simple cutout, to an elaborate diorama that nestles the phone protectively. 

Another example of a task he has given his engineering students is to take a pint glass, and in two weeks, he wants a handle on the pint glass that doesn't let go when he turns it upside down. Students have to come up with an idea, create it in CAD, and track different iterations. They 3D print them and test them until they are successful.

The second level, Engineering II, teaches CAD; students become proficient in Fusion 360. By the time they reach Engineering III, they tackle larger projects with multiple people, budgets, and a deep focus on project management. And progressing to Engineering IV, students take what they've learned and give it an entrepreneurial bent.

Parents who are in engineering fields, as well as Holy Ghost Prep alumni, like to come back to share their time and experience. Part of Engineering IV is shadowing a working engineer twice during the year, either at their workspace or on a job site. This gives students a real-life look at what it's like in the field. As Kevin says, engineering as a discipline tends to have a lot to do with books and computers, but engineering in the field is knowledge, experience, and application. What you meet in the field can differ widely from what you meet in books.

Students are passionate and committed to the engineering program. Because it starts in grade 10, and there are 4 levels, the only way to get to the final level is to take one of the courses during the summer. Typically, a student takes a CAD course during the summer because it lends itself to distance learning.

And the courses themselves are iterative. Kevin has had to expand the program a few times already. This is the first year running an Engineering IV, and they're always learning how to make it better.

Bridging the gap between digital concepts and a tangible object is one focus of the engineering courses offered at Holy Ghost Prep. To this end, Kevin created a big version of an ancient lock. It's a pin tumbler, and students get a digital 3D model of it. Without ever seeing the real thing, each student has to create a key that fits it the right way - and they each only get one chance at trying to unlock the real one. They have to digitally deconstruct it and iterate digitally instead of literally. This helps them cross from theory to practical, and they tend to some healthy competition as they work individually to reverse engineer it without ever physically holding it.

Using 3DPrinterOS to scale 3D printing in the makerspace

Kevin has been using 3DPrinterOS to manage the 3D printers in the BFIC for nearly 2 years now. When the BCIF was only running a couple of Ultimakers he did not need such robust software; however, when he started to add more 3D printers, he realized within a month that it would not work unless he made a change: the micro SD cards they had been using are just too easy to lose, and too hard to determine what file is stored on it. He also discovered that micro-SD card readers are not a common household item, and his students were having unnecessary challenges using them.

He started using 3DPrinterOS and had that lightbulb moment, "We can go bigger!" An online 3D printing solution that young people can just point their computers towards is so much easier. He currently runs 6 Creality Ender-3 S1 Pros, and they're working almost 24/7.

Kevin has a rigorous schedule, teaching about 120 students with a full spectrum of abilities, across 7 courses. He also interacts regularly with an electromechanical design class, as their spheres overlap in terms of creating tangible objects. 

To facilitate this, Kevin uses the 'user groups' feature of 3DPrinterOS to distinguish individual classes, so he knows where print requests are coming from. Occasionally other teachers will request a 3D print for part of their teaching. Students enjoy 3D printing some of their personal projects, and Kevin supports them if he has space on a 3D printer. One class has a user group that can 3D print for free, and Kevin uses 3DPrinterOS to prioritize scholastic-based 3D print projects. 

Despite that rigorous schedule, though, he says the biggest challenge of his job is judging creativity. When completing a project, one student may put in less effort but tick all the boxes, while another creates the most imaginative, clever piece of work that is also functional according to requirements. A recent example occurred during the 'pint glass handle' project mentioned above: one student certainly outperformed and created his handle to look like a hotdog. 

How do you quantify that creativity? To elucidate why one is superior to another is a challenge. But that creativity is what Kevin is empowering. As he says, "I can't light the fire of creativity, but I'm trained to recognize it and fan that flame to bring it out."

A new generation: less experience with tools, but a healthy respect for them

Kevin has found that students have less access to tools and equipment at home than they may have had in earlier generations. He has found that this translates into a healthy respect for the tools; for example, when he teaches them to use a drill correctly, students are attentive and responsive to his instructions.

Being a preparatory school, the Holy Ghost Prep graduates head to very prestigious universities. And the culture is such that they often come back, and share what they've learned after eventually graduating from university. As Kevin says, it's powerful for students to hear about entrepreneurship from somebody not much older than themselves, who has been successfully running a business and can tell them what it's actually like to start a company.

Kevin's advice to somebody starting or expanding a makerspace is clear: be ready for anything. As well as creative designs and functional engineering projects, a typical day may include repairing something that fell off a student's desk!

Every day in a makerspace is different, and Kevin loves that variety. He used to work in the aerospace defense industry as a mechanical engineer. He tried to persuade his team to adopt 3D printing, as he could see the value it could bring to the table. Meeting resistance and apathy relating to change, he quit his job and took some introspection time to really connect with who he wanted to be. At the urging of a close friend, he decided to try teaching - almost against his will. To his surprise, it has become his true passion. Not only is every day different, but the pace is so much more uplifting, so much more rewarding, than in his previous industry. 

Students in this age bracket are all maturing at different rates. At Holy Ghost Preparatory School, staff work to treat the young men as if they are already in college. Students are granted a lot of freedom; they can come and work in the makerspace or library if they want. With that comes responsibility, of course, and by their senior year the students have appropriated the concept, and it's an easy transition for them to move on to college.

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