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Mind, Body and Spirit: The Quest for New Students with Mr. Bruder

We caught Brian Bruder at a Bad Time. It’s the eve of Kennedy Catholic’s Accepted Students Day, which for the Director of Admissions is like the week before Christmas for Santa Claus. Every child who was accepted into Kennedy gets an invite to the big blowout the night of February 1st, and it’s the last opportunity for admissions, guidance, faculty, coaches, and student volunteers to communicate the message about why someone should elect to go Kennedy Catholic.

Mr. Brian Bruder, Kennedy Catholic's Director of Admissions

Mr. Brian Bruder, Kennedy Catholic’s Director of Admissions

“But out of all the groups helping out, our best salespeople are our current students,” Mr. Bruder points out. “They symbolize to a mother or father in attendance that night, ‘That could be my son. That could be my daughter! This is the right fit for us.'”

This is Mr. Bruder’s second year as Kennedy Catholic’s Director of Admissions and spit polish pit boss. He joined the school in 2014 and has been teaching Global II, Civics, and Economics for ten years. He attended down-county rival Iona Prep before getting his marketing degree at Fordham University and his master’s in education at Mercy College.

So by training Mr. Bruder is a marketer and marketers, of course, sell things. From a marketer’s point of view, then, what’s Kennedy’s biggest selling point?

“The best selling point is that we are college prep, we have great facilities here, we are generally affordable in the marketplace, we reinforce Christian values, and we are unapologetically Catholic,” Mr. Bruder told us. “There is also that small matter about the return on investment: Our students consistently secure scholarship dollars to top academic institutions around the country including military academies. Last year’s class garnered over 29 million dollars in scholarships.”

Marketers all have “elevator pitches” and we wanted to hear Mr. Bruder’s. Let’s say you have just five minutes to spare. You can’t give a prospective student a tour of the whole school, so where do you take him?

“I will take him to the heart of the school, and that’s St. Mary’s Chapel,” he explained “It communicates the spirit and Catholic heritage of our school and how it started and how that translated. It was purposefully built right in the heart of the school.”

Outside of the run-up to Accepted Students Night, the Admissions Department also gets busy when Kennedy brings in transfer students This usually occurs towards the end of the 1st semester and later, closer to June. Five to ten percent of the Kennedy Catholic student population at any given time are transfer students, and that’s kind of a big deal, Mr. Bruder told us. They come from public schools, other Catholic schools in the area, and, as of this week, they come from Russia.

“For the first time in Kennedy history we have two students from Moscow,” he explained. “One is a 9th grader and one is a 10th grader. They are both hockey players, and apparently heard about the great education that (Kennedy Alumnus and NJ Devils’ defenseman) Steve Santini got here, how he was able to balance hockey and academics. Their parents want them to be educated in the United States. One has already signed a commitment letter to attend the University of Connecticut.”

When not planning a year ahead or dealing with a sudden influx of Soviet students, the Admissions Department handles the highly successful “Gael for a Day” Program.

“It’s an opportunity for interested 7th or 8th graders to come and visit Kennedy Catholic for a day,” Mr. Bruder told us. “They are paired up with a current 9th grader who might be from the same town or went to the same school, someone who can shed some light on their daily commute, or may have the same interests in sports. They go and visit class to class; they meet the teachers, the coaches; and instructors in the Art Department, conductors of the orchestras and bands. I like to tell them when they come in, ‘don’t be nervous, just be a sponge, and absorb the day.’ We want it to be the right fit, we want them to walk away from Kennedy Catholic saying, ‘Y’know what? This is where I need to be. This is my home.’

I always tell an 8th grader that we are not only going to develop your mind and body here, but we are also going to develop your spirit. We are not only go to make you into a good student, but we are going to make sure you are prepared to be successful in life.”

Sitting atop the admissions mountain, Mr. Bruder is in a unique position to discern what ties all the students accepted into Kennedy together. What connections do all these students – many traveling many miles away daily – share?

“We are all linked by a common faith, we are all linked by the desire to excel, and we all want to be, as our motto says, ‘We are courageous, we are compassionate, we are Kennedy Catholic,’” Mr. Bruder says. But he urges us not to mistake the Kennedy student body for the Kennedy community as a whole, for that is grander still.

“The Kennedy community is anybody who ever walked through these doors: alumni, family, parents. It is current faculty and past faculty. The Kennedy Catholic community is a strong one, a loyal one, it’s one that future graduates are going to be proud to be part of.”

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Flying First Class on the Cartesian Plane: 3D Modeling and Robotics with Ms. Jenkins

Kennedy Catholic’s course in 3D Modeling is a little over two years old, and no one is more excited about sitting at that nexus of Art and Science than its teacher, Ms. Antonia Jenkins.

“Yes, it’s fantastic! My background is in Art, but what I am teaching is the foundation of a lot of other things,” she enthused. “You can take what you’ve learned here and apply it to architecture, to engineering, to design. It’s the basics that you need to help grow.”

Currently, 3D Modeling students use Maya, the same industry-standard software used by Hollywood animators. That’s right in Ms. Jenkins’ wheelhouse, having more than a few short films and commercials under her belt. She studied Computer Animation at The School of Visual Arts.

Ms. Antonia Jenkins teaches Robotics, Computer Programming and Computer Modeling at Kennedy Catholic High School

Ms. Antonia Jenkins teaches Robotics, Computer Programming and Computer Modeling at Kennedy Catholic High School

“With 3D Modeling, students start out making simple things, working with the space, getting familiar with the interface, then going on to actually making things, making objects.”

This marriage of aesthete with concrete is emblematic of other courses offered to juniors and seniors at Kennedy, as well. It’s a big component of the Robotics curriculum, taught, again, by Ms. Jenkins.

“I try to blend a lot of the creativity and the science together by having students come up with creative ideas, like telling a story. One of the projects we do at the end of the year is to have the robot tell a story, and then have the robot act it out. So we have the creative side of writing a story and the more scientific side of programming the robot to move, and to change its voice, and to narrate the story, and to make it come to life.”

Students use an application called Choreographe to program the robot. The application breaks the robot-controlling program down into a series of boxes that each manage a different part of the robot’s programming. The students also need to write their own custom code to make the robot perform various tasks.

“Robotics class starts out with basic things,” she explains, ”like making the robot talk. Then we proceed onto making it move and working with its different sensors and do more complicated things.”

The Robot

The Robot

On the horizon? Yanking some of those wireframes and software models out of cyberspace with Kennedy Catholic’s new 3D printer.

“We’ve got some other software that we are working with, including 123D Design and Meshmixer, and we’re going to be learning how to make things in 3D space, how the printer works, and how you what you create digitally translates into reality.”

Ms. Jenkins agrees that making robots tell stories and sculpting objects from aether hits the sweet spot for many Kennedy students who are Math and Science-oriented.

“There is a lot of Geometry that goes into 3D Modeling. So you need to know about the Cartesian plane, basic geometric principles, and the different components of an object. You get to work with that and through that you get to create some amazing things.”

But if it’s a little bit Art, and a little bit Science, what’s the benchmark for success? How does a teacher know that she has the pistons firing on both the left and right sides of a student’s brain?

“When they keep asking me ‘what to do?’ and ‘what to do next?’” Ms. Jenkins explained. “I had a first year student who was really into it, she was always on top of her work, and she always wanted to know, ‘what’s the next step?’”

…and the next step for that student was…?

“I have heard back from her and she is studying to be an architect! That’s fantastic because architects work with a program called Auto CAD, another 3D software program. So I have given her a nice foundation to continue working in 3D.”

Conjugating Verbs on The Bleeding Edge: AP Computer Science Principles with Mr. Anderson

In another of those “quiet firsts” for which Kennedy Catholic has become famous, the school launched an Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles class this year. It’s the first time this course has been offered in the nation, and Kennedy is one of only 450 high schools in the country that are offering the class.

So… so far, so good…?

As with anything else, when you’re on the forefront of something you’re on the ‘bleeding edge,’ but we handle those hiccups,” Allan Anderson, Kennedy’s AP Computer Science teacher, laughed. “We’ve gotten excellent support to help us. I actually adopted the curriculum that was developed by Berkley University, it’s called the ‘Beauty and Joy of Computing,’ so everyday I get emails off a discussion board from Berkley folks who are using this across the country, so if we do run into a problem, we’ve got other people to collaborate with.”

Mr. Allan Anderson, in Classroom

Mr. Allan Anderson, teacher of AP Computer Science Principles at Kennedy Catholic High School

Mr. Anderson received his Masters in Computer Science in 1970 from Purdue University, at that time only one of three schools in the country to offer such a program (We’re sensing a pattern here…). After grad school he spent 23 years at IBM, later working as a network integration consultant in New York City, before moving into academia where he currently serves as Professor of Computer Science and Department Chair of Technologies at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Connecticut, in addition to his work at Kennedy.

Last year Mr. Anderson taught a class at Kennedy in the popular computer language Python that was extremely well-received. But with AP Computer Science Principles, he is casting the net a bit wider.

This class is meant for everybody going to college,” he explained. “Computing innovations have impacted everything in the world, and they will continue to impact everything in the future. So it’s important for everybody to understand what computing innovations are all about.”

One thing they are not about, Mr. Anderson believes, is exclusivity. He feels his peers haven’t been very effective at involving everyone in Computer Science education.

Let’s face it, the Computer Science population has been predominantly white male individuals. We’re trying to get minorities as well as females involved in Computer Science. And that’s one of the things the Computer Science Principles course is focusing on. It’s not just for nerds.”

Most high school computer classes around the country are fighting a losing battle against their aging hardware, but the computers in Kennedy’s Computer Science Lab are all brand new as of last year. So what kind of obstacles does AP Computer Science Principles face? Are there networking issues, run-time errors, corrupted databases…?

“The obstacles have nothing to do with Computer Science,” Mr. Anderson explained. “They have to do with being able to write well, and to be able to research, to come up with appropriate credible references. It is reinforcing what students probably already learned in an English class.”

It seems that students really aren’t expecting their Computer Science teacher to be hammering them about their grammar. But then, this is Kennedy…

It’s like, ‘Well, I don’t have to use those techniques here, I can treat it more like a ‘texting’ environment,'” Mr. Anderson elaborated. “The answer is ‘No!’ The number one requirement for employers is that their employees be able to communicate: written, orally, and definitely electronically!”

Note to students: Complete your brackets AND conjugate your verbs properly in Mr. Anderson’s class. As Morpheus admonished Neo in The Matrix, “Welcome to the Real World.”

Grammar aside, Mr. Anderson believes the old canard about Computer Science being intimidating for any student to learn is now officially played out. He cites the marketing efforts of one of the country’s largest toy manufacturers as supporting evidence.

Three of my five grandchildren are 3 to 3 and a half years old,” he said. “Fisher Price has a ‘Code-a-Pillar™’ that teaches beginning algorithm development. To a 3 year old! It’s a forty dollar toy, and these grandchildren are going to get one as a Christmas present. The five year old will be getting an Osmo system but that’s another story.”

AP Computer Science Principles makes use of an array of online tools, including Blackboard and a collaborative discussion board. Perhaps surprisingly, many students are a little slow to wrap their minds around the virtual meeting rooms, “…but it’s important for them to learn that,” Mr. Anderson made clear, “because that is what they are going to encounter, not only in their education facilities, but in their future careers, wherever that may take them.”