DePaul program aims to boost math, science at Catholic schools

Notre Dame High School for Girls math teacher Irene Heidelbauer always wanted to pursue a master’s degree.

Fighting traffic to get to class, evening graduate courses and early morning high school classes detoured her, but it was the expense that put her goal on hold indefinitely, she says.

Each three-credit course at DePaul University would cost her $1,500.

“That’s a lot of money for Catholic school teachers,” Heidelbauer says. “There’s not a lot of salary coming our way.”

But early next year, Heidelbauer will take her first steps toward that degree -- for free. She'll attend classes three blocks from Notre Dame. And classes will start in the afternoon, which fits her schedule perfectly, she says.

Heidelbauer and about a dozen other math and science teachers are the beneficiaries of a roughly $50,000 Big Shoulders Fund grant to North Side Catholic schools.

The grant allows teachers to take two courses toward a master’s degree, which requires 12 completed courses.

The program offers DePaul graduate classes at St. Ferdinand Elementary School. The classes will focus on dealing with challenges at 10 North Side Catholic schools, says Lucine Mastalerz, principal of St. Ferdinand, who wrote the grant application that kicked off the program.

Mastalerz has been a professor at various local colleges, including DePaul, where she’s currently an adjunct professor.

Using  standardized test scores from the 10 schools, she and one of her master’s level teaching classes spotlighted math and science problem areas, including algebra, geometry, physics and chemistry.

The new program will focus on those areas. The first class is Curriculum Design for Math Instruction. It's followed by Education Leadership for Science Programs.

Teachers are expected to take what they’ve learned back to their schools. Student test scores will be tracked to see how well the program worked, Mastalerz says.

“We aren’t teaching to the test," says  Mastalerz. Instead, teachers are learning to help kids improve in trouble spots, she says.

Besides free tuition, teachers will be able to apply for $500 mini-grants for classroom supplies through the program, Mastalerz says.

Heidelbauer says she’s going to use the mini-grants to buy a math game for the kids. She’ll buy a buzzer system that allows kids to buzz in multiple choice answers to math problems, which will automatically score how many students got it right, she says.

“It gives me immediate feedback about how the kids are doing, and I like to teach using games,” she says.

A similar Big Shoulders program on the South Side began last fall.
It offers St. Xavier Univerisity classes at St. Therese School in Chinatown. Rather than concentrating on specific trouble areas, it builds teachers' overall math and science skills, says Phyllis Cavallone, principal at St. Therese. It’s also targeting teachers from just six schools, instead of 10 schools on the North Side.

The south side grant lasts for two years, providing $50,000 this year for tuition and $50,000 next year for supplies. The program also  pays for teachers to join organizations like the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and National Science Teachers Association.

Money for the North Side program comes from Chicago Community Trust, says Rebecca Lindsay-Ryan, director of external affairs for the Big Shoulders Fund.

Tellabs funded the South Side program.

In the last 20 years, Big Shoulders has raised more than $150 million. It administers about $11 million in grants and scholarships per year, mainly targeted at Archdiocese of Chicago schools.