Game On! Coding Class Empowers Young Minds
By Erin Pant
This fall, Saint Peter’s technology teacher, Mr. Stephen Szot, offered a new after-school video game coding class for students in grades 3 to 5. The eight-week class introduced fundamental coding concepts through the online block coding environment Make Code Arcade.
Szot has previously taught a more advanced coding class to middle school students and wanted to offer younger students the opportunity for a similar engaging, creative, and innovative learning experience.
“The only prerequisite was a love of learning something new, interest in video games and of course a desire to create their own games,” said Szot.
Over the course of the class, nineteen students created digital games that could be played on personal handheld gaming devices that they took home with them at the completion of the class.
Along the way, the students were introduced to computer programming topics including variables, loops, conditional statements, and functions, and the basics of game design including sprites (objects on the screen you can interact with), game conditions (win and loss criteria), and navigating sprites along an X Y coordinate system.
“My favorite part of the video game coding class was coding lots of games that were really fun, like Space Invaders and Baby Dinos,” said third grader Ella Czyz.
After creating a game, the students were challenged to consider how each game could be enhanced to make them more or less complex, or to improve on the sound, graphics, and overall fun of the experience.
“The interaction, energy, and creativity of the students impacted me the most during this class,” said Szot.
While the original lesson plan aimed to complete three games during the class, the students were so eager to learn they were able to accomplish creating five games.
“I enjoyed coding a lot of different games. The class made me want to continue learning to code” said fifth grader Alexander Czyz.
“I was surprised at the custom soundtracks, unique colorful character designs, and code modifications they created. Not to mention debugging to identify and correct coding and structural errors that were introduced. After this class, I hope that the students continue to learn, create, and expand their interest in coding while at home,” said Szot.
Based on the positive feedback, energy, and enthusiasm from students Szot hopes to offer this class again in the future.
Green Activities Going Strong at Saint Peter’s
By Jane Bornhorst
Members of the Saint Peter’s School Environmental Club and parent volunteers are working to encourage the school community to use environmentally friendly practices and keep our world clean.
To reduce the school’s carbon footprint, Saint Peter’s held “Walk N’ Roll Week” from November 6-10. Students, faculty, and staff were encouraged to find creative ways to get to and from school, whether it be biking, walking, or carpooling to save car miles and excess emissions. This student-driven effort was led by parent volunteer Julie Zadecky.
“We hope the experience of walking or riding a bike to school will provide an opportunity for the students (and maybe their parents too) to enjoy some physical activity and fresh air before starting their day and have a nice wind down after school too. We'll be collecting information from families who participate to tally up how many miles we've saved and hope that the students will enjoy it enough to continue alternative commuting beyond this week,” Zadecky says.
Under the direction of parent volunteer Margaret Giron, the club is also working to create a rain garden, which utilizes rainfall to help plants grow and reduce soil and mulch runoff on the school grounds. The club measured roof runoff from the school downspout to help determine how big to make the rain garden.
Students in Mr. Tremblay’s math classes used rain garden calculation tables provided by Montgomery County to calculate the drain rate, and fourth grade math classes calculated how much mulch volume was needed for the space. The environmental club selected plants, and Mrs. Caldeira’s seventh-grade science class did a perc test, which analyzes the drainage capability of raw land for future development.
Pope Francis in his “Laudato Si’” encyclical said climate change should be taken seriously, and that Catholics and everyone should do all they can to protect the Earth and environment. In late November, a speaker from the Office of Social Concerns will speak to Saint Peter’s students about fulfilling this Catholic obligation.
“It's so much fun to see the excitement and enthusiasm that the kids have for planning and executing eco-friendly projects, not to mention the smiles on their faces at the completion of a successful project!" said Giron.
Saint Peter's families can find more information and get involved with The Green Team by visiting The Key.
Hall of saints
by Dora J Gomes
Catholics around the world celebrate All Saints Day on November 1, remembering the work and lives of the saints, and praying to them for their intercession.
Each year, the fourth graders of Saint Peter’s School celebrate All Saints Day by creating a Hall of Saints. Students appear as a saint of their choice and prepare presentations for their fellow schoolmates and family, about the lives of their chosen saint for this event.
“I am Saint Anthony, who was the one to hold baby Jesus and who could find lost things”, said, Anthony whose birthday is on the day of St. Anthony’s Feast. While Jack chose Saint John the Baptist, who “prepared the way for Jesus”.
Sahana, choose Joan of Arc for her bravery and was surprised to learn that she was trialed for witchcraft. Lena chose Saint Kateri because she loved the environment and the poor. While Maryline, who loves music, chose Saint Cecilia as she is the patron saint of music and was a martyr.
Thaddeus and Camilla both chose Padre Pio, expressing the same enthusiasm to learn that Padre Pio could be in two places at the same time.
There were Mary the Blessed Mother, Saint Joseph, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Michael the Archangel, Mother Teresa, Saint Lucy, Saint Patrick, and many more.
The participants expressed it was fun creating costumes in the image of their saint and doing research that all led to the All Saints Day celebration, where they presented themselves to visitors in the Hall of Saints. This event is a great way to learn about the lives of the Saints that leads in strengthening the Catholic faith.
panthers in the wild
By: Matthew Byrdy, Jordan Georges, and Samantha Scango, Saint Peter’s Class of 2024
On September 15, Saint Peter’s middle school students went on three unique field trips which included Chesapeake Bay, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Sandy Spring Adventure Park. Each grade had a distinctive experience, and students wrote about their favorite things from the trips in their literature classes.
The sixth-grade class took a field trip to the Chesapeake Bay. Sofia Schaeffer said, “I totally didn’t expect the adventure I got. We took out nets and picked up fish with our bare hands! It was so exciting, and I would seriously like to go again!”
Seventh-grader Abby Auchmoody said, "Field trips are wonderful experiences for hands-on learning. This year we went to Gettysburg which is full of history, and I was extremely excited to learn more about the biggest battle in the Civil War. My favorite part was the cyclorama. It was a circular painting that helped me envision myself as if I were there. I had a wonderful time and believe others did as well.”
The eighth grade class went to the Sandy Spring Adventure Park, for the yearly “Challenge Trip.” This adventure helped to build a sense of community within the class. The outing challenges not only physical skills, but leadership skills as well. When Matthew Byrdy and Samantha Scango were asked what they thought of this trip they said, “It was a great learning experience and helped me to grow closer with my classmates.”
Get to Know Saint Peter’s New Staff Members
Mrs. Shirley Espin, Spanish Teacher
About me: I have been working in the educational field for over 18 years and I have worked as a Bilingual Coordinator and certified Interpreter. I love interacting with children, families, and other educators.
This year, I’m looking forward to the students enjoying Spanish class and learning about different cultures and traditions.
Ms. Nicol Espinoza, Third Grade Paraeducator
About me: I was born in Lima, Perú. I previously worked at MCPS, but my faith took me on a journey until I found Saint Peter’s. My first few weeks at Saint Peter’s have been an adventure. It has been fun to meet so many people and I have learned a lot in the process.
This year, I’m looking forward to a prosperous year for all at Saint Peter's. I pray to God for guidance to achieve all our goals one day at a time.
Ms. Erin Farrell, School Counselor
About me: I attended Saint Peter’s school before continuing my education at the Academy of the Holy Cross and the University of Dayton. I worked at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in Alexandria, VA and spent the last two years at Saint Patrick’s School in Rockville. I am so grateful to this community for welcoming me back.
This year, I’m looking forward to getting to know the students better and supporting their social-emotional well-being.
Ms. Caitlin McNickle, Fifth Grade Teacher
About me: I have eight years of teaching experience. I earned my bachelor's degree in education with a minor in special education at Loyola University Maryland. My first few weeks at Saint Peter's have been busy, with many new learning opportunities.
This year, I’m looking forward to being a part of the school community and settling into my position. I am also excited to see all of the progress my students will make this year.
Ms. Pat O’Connell, Second Grade Teacher
About me: I have taught in ADW schools for 20+ years. I studied Spanish and Latin American Affairs in college and graduate school, and ave a Masters in Teaching from Johns Hopkins University. The Saint Peter’s community has been very welcoming, and I am excited to be here.
This year, I am looking forward to getting to know my students and preparing them to receive First Penance and First Communion.
Saint Peter's School Welcomes Familiar Face as New Principal
By Erin Pant
Ms. Lauren DeZinno has been appointed principal of Saint Peter’s School in Olney. DeZinno is a familiar face to the Saint Peter’s community, she served as acting vice principal for the 2022-2023 school year and previously taught middle school Spanish.
“It has long been my dream to serve as the institutional and spiritual leader of a community such as Saint Peter's School,” said DeZinno.
Ms. DeZinno joined Saint Peter’s faculty in 2018 and in addition to teaching has been involved in many school programs and extra-curricular activities, including the drama program.
“Saint Peter’s is a very special place,” said DeZinno. “The Saint Peter's School community is truly committed to educating the whole child. The parents, families, faculty, and staff members are united in our mission to nurture the minds and hearts of our students.”
DeZinno, a graduate of the Archdiocese of Washington school system, is looking forward to “everything” during her first year as principal.
“My experiences attending the Archdiocese of Washington's exemplary Catholic schools helped shape who I am. I hope our students will have similarly wonderful, faith-filled experiences during their time at Saint Peter's School,” said DeZinno.
DeZinno earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Delaware and received her Master of Arts degree from Notre Dame of Maryland University, where she majored in Leadership in Teaching.
“When I earned my master's degree in leadership in teaching in 2019, I began to think about pursuing a career in administration. After much thought and even more prayer, I decided to pursue it more seriously and applied for the principal position when the opportunity arose,” said DeZinno.
DeZinno recently took part in the Leadership Academy sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington Catholic Schools Office. Prior to Saint Peter’s, DeZinno held teaching positions at The Academy of the Holy Cross and St. Jude’s Regional Catholic School.
Fun and Friendships Blossom During New Pre-K Summer Program
The youngest students at Saint Peter’s had an opportunity to participate in a new program established by our longtime PreK team of teachers. Ms. Trotta and Mrs. Smith, who both teach the PreK-3 students, and Ms. Tina Cubbage, who teaches PreK-4, hosted four weeks of Summer Blossom Camp for students entering PreK-4 or Kindergarten. Activities for the students included art projects, science experiments, music, dance, and outdoor fun.
Incoming students mingled with returning students so that when the first day of school comes later this month, it will seem like everyone is greeting old friends, instead of walking into a new environment.
From Rockets to Robots, Curiosity Shines at Science Fair
By Erin Pant
Eighty-six student scientists spent their spring designing, conducting, and analyzing experiments. Led by parent volunteer Mrs. McAndrew-Benavides, a new science fair model was introduced at Saint Peter’s this year.
In March, students had the opportunity to sign-up for the voluntary activity and choose their project topics. Students could work individually or with a partner. Work took place outside of normal school hours. Weekly instructions, reminders, and resources were sent to assist students throughout their projects.
“It was a great learning experience where everything wasn’t directed by certain guidelines or instructions, you were free to experiment and figure things out on your own and make your own deductions,” said eighth grader Marin Cobo who investigated Cone Analysis for Rocket Height Optimization.
Students representing every grade from pre-kindergarten through eighth, presented their findings at the Science Fair on Friday, April 21. For students in PreK-5, the Science Fair was a non-competitive opportunity. For students in grades 6-8, “Best in Category” awards, such as Best Research Project, Best Experiment, Best Demonstration, and Crowd Pleaser, were presented. Judges included science professionals, local high school teachers, and community members.
“Our students showed off how curious, creative, and courageous they are. I loved hearing them talk about their investigations!” said middle-school science teacher Mrs. Caldeira.
Fourth Grader Charlotte Scango’s project explored whether fruit could produce power to light a light bulb. “No matter how old you are you can find a project that works for you,” Scango said, “It was fun walking around learning about things, especially from the little kids.”
Project topics represented a diverse array of scientific fields including aerospace, biology, biomedical, chemistry, computer science, engineering, food science, geology, kinesiology, power, and life science.
“Special thanks to all of the volunteers from the parish, local schools, and community who helped make this event happen,” said Mrs. McAndrew-Benavides. “I hope it’s the beginning of a new annual tradition.”
A Production Frozen in Time Finally has the Spotlight
By Tina Banks
As the auditorium fell to darkness, Natalie Avalos-Restrepo as Young Anna and Evelyn Pak as Young Elsa, lit up the stage in the Saint Peter’s School production of Frozen Jr. The talented student cast of 45 performers and 38 stage-crew members, led by Director Phyllis Bottegal, Music Director Peter Nguyen, and Producer Caley Gallagher, dazzled sold-out audiences as they transported them to the fictional land of Arendelle.
It was clear from the opening curtain the cast was bringing the production to life for not only this year’s hardworking actors and actresses, but those who laid the foundation for this amazing performance—the Frozen JR. 2020 cast. As the pandemic shut down the world, it impacted the 2020 production, forcing the cast to pass their magical powers onto another class. The 2023 performers let everything go as they dedicated their show to those performances forever frozen in time.
“It was amazing to finally see the play,” said Crystie Byrdy, mother of Michael and Matthew Byrdy, 2020 and 2023 cast members, respectively. “I remember how hard Michael worked and his excitement to be in the 2020 production. I never got to see Michael as Hans, but seeing Matthew, Michael’s younger brother, in the same costume Michael would have worn was just so special. I cried during the tribute as the production for both of them finally had the spotlight.”
In Frozen, Take 2, the Drama Club’s 23rd year of performances, the cast was worth melting over. As the young princesses transformed into their older versions, Nora Babu as Anna and Demi Storms as Elsa, they filled the theater with amazing vocals, making the audience forget they were watching a middle-school performance. Supporting cast members—Georgio Alarcon Sardelis as Kristoff, George Glekas as Olaf, Nick Barczy as Weslton and Matthew Byrdy as Hans—performed scenes with confidence, making the audience feel every emotion and filling the auditorium with laughter and even some tears.
“It is great to see the children start off not knowing what is ahead, and then they evolve into
characters,” said Director Phyllis Bottegal. “It’s wonderful to see them step on the stage and see their own hard work and confidence that they develop. It’s important for us to teach them how to work with one another, meet new friends, and become a family.”
Congratulations to the Frozen Jr. family who are forever bonded through hard work and adversity!
Timeless traditions return
By Tina Banks
Saint Peter’s School hosted two notable events in February - the Sweetheart Luncheon and the Mardi Gras Celebration.
“The luncheons are wonderful occasions to celebrate our Saint Peter’s community,” said Principal, Nelson Abreu. “These events provide an opportunity to educate the whole child by going beyond the classroom to provide enhancements of both spiritual and emotional growth.”
Pre-K students invited a special guest to the heart-filled Sweetheart luncheon to celebrate the feast day of Saint Valentine, a Saint Peter’s tradition dating back more than a decade.
As the guests waited with anticipation for the luncheon to begin, each student decorated their place setting with special artwork. In honor of Valentine’s Day, students dressed out of uniform in colors of the season – red and pink – adding to the festive occasion. The special guests enjoyed the lunch hour chatting with their ‘valentine,’ taking pictures, and most of all making memories that will last a lifetime.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate with our children and get a glimpse into the amazing relationships the students have with each other and with their teachers,” said Pre-K 4 parent Melissa Smith. “We’ve been away from each other for so long. I truly hope we have more of these cherished opportunities to come together and spend time with our children, teachers, and parent community.”
The littlest students were not to be outdone by their older school peers who enjoyed a Mardi Gras party and luncheon to celebrate Shrove Tuesday, the last day before the start of Lent. Room parents from grades fifth through eighth transformed the Parish Hall into an indoor Mardi Gras festival complete with feather boas, beads, masks, and mini hats. Students played Lenten trivia while they enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of baked ziti and socialized with friends. Of course traditional king cakes were part of the celebration!
"I really enjoyed the party and had a great time hanging out with my friends," said seventh grader Paige Hutchcroft.
"It was great to see another pre-COVID tradition return to Saint Peter's,” said middle school department chair Ms. Gallagher.
More events are scheduled in the coming months to deepen the bonds of the Saint Peter’s community and provide opportunities to create partnerships, friendships, and cherished memories.
Saint Peter’s Celebrates Black History Month
By Erin Pant
Throughout the month of February, students at Saint Peter’s School took part in special projects and activities recognizing the achievements of Black Americans.
Third graders wrote biographies of Black Americans who have contributed to the history of our country, while fourth and fifth graders researched and completed “Histagrams,” Instagram-like profiles of notable Black Americans.
Eighth graders took on a special leadership role in this year’s Black History Month activities. Twenty-four students formed a special committee, led by middle-school English Teacher Ms. Gallagher, to plan, organize, and lead school-wide programming.
“I joined the Black History Month committee to be a member of a committee that would do good at my school. I felt that it was vital to participate in something like this as black man,” said eighth-grader Nate Jeudy.
The committee members presented special programming at least once per week during school-wide assemblies. To kick off Black History Month, students demonstrated the powerful impact of words by performing notable speeches made by Black Americans throughout history.
“I presented the magnificent words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a Dream" speech. I presented this to all my fellow Saint Peter's students. I chose this topic because I felt the words really reflected how to make our nation a better place for everyone,” said eighth-grader Chidiebube Dumebi-Kachikwu
Other presentations included information on the Harlem Renaissance and Jazz.
“Jazz was one of the creative influences that grew during the Harlem Renaissance. Jazz became a prominent part of the Great Migration, a time when African Americans spread north to take advantage of new job opportunities. I learned this through my research on the 1920s in Social Studies,” said eight-grader Olivia Cooley.
The Black History Month committee also organized a tag day with the money being donated to a Black run charity. To conclude the month, the committee led the school in a prayer service during which the school choir performed “Hymn to Freedom,” an anthem written in 1962 by jazz musician Oscar Peterson during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
“My favorite part of working on the committee was being able to form ideas with friends for something that really matters,” said eight grader Alexandra Kissal.
“I am so proud of the work of our eighth graders. They came up with so many wonderful ideas that enriched our school-wide Black History Month celebrations,” said Ms. Gallagher.
On January 6, Father Nicholas and Father Peter along with students representing the Magi, visited each classroom to offer a blessing in celebration of the Epiphany. Students wrote down the gifts they will be working to give Jesus this year and placed them in a basket.
A JOYFUL CHRISTMAS SEASON AT SAINT PETER'S
By Jane Bornhorst
Saint Peter’s School celebrated the Christmas season with several events that spread seasonal cheer throughout its community.
In mid-December, a cookie exchange and staff breakfast were provided for school faculty and staff by parent volunteers.
That same evening, the Saint Peter’s Christmas show took place at the Performing Arts Center at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School. The event began with the school choir singing several Christmas songs, followed by this year’s show, “A Christmas Yarn.” In a nod to the classic tale, “A Christmas Carol”, the musical follows workers at Unique Gifts from Luxurious Yarns (U.G.L.Y.), the world’s leading supplier of ugly Christmas sweaters. Through the course of the story, the workers overcome obstacles and discover the true meaning of Christmas. Music teacher Mr. Peter Nguyen directed the show, the lead performers and stage crew in the production were the school’s 6th graders, while students in grades K through 5 performed musical numbers throughout.
The following week, Saint Peter’s held a family-favorite event, the school’s Christmas Tree Lighting, complete with hot cocoa, cookies, festive music, and a craft for the kids.
Later, guests headed out to enjoy the school’s third annual Christmas Lights Tour, in which 41 families signed up to decorate their houses with lights and more to be included in the event. Maps of multiple tour routes were provided to families so they could drive by with their children to enjoy the twinkling displays.
“It has become one of our family’s favorite holiday traditions, says Susan Whelan, mother of Delaney, a fifth grader. “It’s our third year participating as one of the homes on the tour. We always have so much fun decorating our home, but we get even more excited about driving around to see everyone’s fun and festive displays! We grab our mugs of hot chocolate, put the windows down, blast and sing Christmas tunes while we drive the routes that are so well organized by the volunteers,” she says. “It’s a wonderful experience all around and one that I hope continues for many families for years to come.”
Celebrating 65 Years on the 65th Day of School
By Robin Vanderpool
During the 2022-2023 school year, Saint Peter’s School is celebrating its 65th anniversary with a host of activities, including commemoration of the 65th day of school on December 12, 2022. The 65th day celebrations paired fun and creativity with prayers of remembrance.
In the spirit of “Saint Peter’s Through the Decades”, students and teachers enjoyed a costume-themed tag day by wearing costumes representing each of the six decades since the school opened (1950s to 2000s). Anson (4th grade) and Ela-Lucia (6th grade) Shish enjoyed the day in their colorful and vibrant 1970s apparel. Two of the 4th grade teachers, Mrs. Morgan Moshovitis (1970s) and Mrs. Eunice Pak (1980s), also joined in the costume fun. In addition to the tag day, students enjoyed cupcakes and classroom scavenger hunts. When asked about the spirit of the day, Ela-Lucia recalled: “It was cool to think about all the students at Saint Peter’s over the past 65 years and dressing up in a decade outfit was a fun way to celebrate the anniversary!”
Classrooms also prayed a decade of the rosary, one representing each of the 65 years of the school’s history. In reflecting on the celebratory festivities, Principal Nelson Abreu summed up the day by saying “It was a great honor to be a part of celebrating the 65th anniversary of Saint Peter's School. There was joy in our classrooms as we honored our amazing school community. Throughout the day we prayed a decade of the rosary for each of the 65 graduating classes. The most rewarding part was praying the final decade of the rosary for our current 8th graders, the 65th graduating class of Saint Peter's together as a community.”
More 65th anniversary activities are planned for the remainder of the school year, culminating in the graduation ceremony for the 65th class of Saint Peter’s School in June 2023.
By Jane Bornhorst
On Tuesday and Friday mornings, students at Saint Peter’s School in Olney put on a live broadcast news show for the entire school community. A different group of students participates each week.
"They quickly learn that speaking clearly and slowly, which is hard to do in front of a camera, as well as delivering with energy and smiles and timing their joke delivery is not as easy as they thought," says Mr. Stephen Szot, technology teacher and staff facilitator for the show. "They learn that preparation helps by practicing the show script the night prior to airing."
Students learn to be part of a team, work with others, and develop communication skills. They also gain a sense of pride from appearing on the show. Some grades have specific roles on the program. Eighth grade anchors and third grade weather reporters learn to read from and control a teleprompter. Fifth graders learn to operate a complicated sound board, and a digital video camera.
“Framing the optimum shot during a show with backdrop TVs and projectors with any number of students is critical to producing a professional morning show,” Szot says. Students also learn how to make “hand-offs” from anchor to guest speakers, weather presenters, and others.
Eighth grader Alexandra Kissal has had the opportunity to work as an anchor for the show. One of her favorite aspects is leading the school in the Morning Prayer and The Pledge of Allegiance. “Working on the Morning Show has provided me important lessons including hard work and accountability,” said Alexandra. “There is a lot that goes into the Morning Show production, and it is truly a team effort.”
The show would not be possible without the help of faculty and staff, including Mr. Peter Nguyen, music teacher. Also, school faculty and staff provide weekly content including special events and class projects to showcase.
"Our show brings the school together twice a week and keeps everyone informed of important events like tag days, school plays, bake sales, mass, and other student-centric events," says Mr. Szot.
The morning show is also streamed on YouTube, allowing parents, grandparents, and friends to watch the show live or on demand.
"Everyone comes together to make the show a success demonstrating the pride in our wonderful school and sharing our Catholic faith with family and friends," Mr. Szot says.
The Saint Peter’s school morning show can be enjoyed by visiting bit.ly/SPOmorningshow