Hi Everyone, my name is Kara Nickolich. I am a St. Elizabeth alum and I wanted to share with you how I believe my education from St. Elizabeth has benefitted me, as well as the importance of a good foundation in education for anyone.
I graduated from St. Elizabeth in 2011. I went to Serra Catholic in McKeesport for high school, which I graduated from in 2015, and I am currently a junior in college at Carnegie Mellon University for Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering. As I move from one institution of learning to the next, I can see how my educational background has differentiated me from my peers. The three areas I would like to highlight tonight are utilizing technology, developing professional relationships, and taking the initiative to complete goals.
First, I’d like to talk about technology. I meet people every day who have varying technological backgrounds. Some have a multitude of coding languages under their belt, from html and python to java and c++. Others have only delved so deep as to the basics of Microsoft excel and PowerPoint. But the specifics of what someone was taught to do with a computer is rarely as important as their approach to new technology, which is instilled in earlier education. At St. Elizabeth we were taught Microsoft office programs like Excel, and PowerPoint, and Word, and Access. At Serra Catholic High School we were given Google Chromebooks by my sophomore year, and teachers were encouraged to incorporate them into the classroom. Even something as small as utilizing the SMARTboard and its features is beneficial, because it teaches students that technology is not daunting. It’s not too complicated. And it’s not only used to play online games. Technology is an integral part of college education and an integral part of being in the workforce. Technology is everywhere. It is constantly evolving. It is imperative to introduce it early, so it can be seen as a tool rather than an obstacle.
Next, I’d like to talk about professional relationships. Some of the first notable adult interaction a student experiences outside of their immediate family is with elementary school teachers. This can be seen as the start of developing professional relationships. It’s easy to diminish the effect that these early relationships have on children, and to question how professional they really are. One person is the student, one is the teacher. There is a clearly established age and education difference. But when entering higher education and various work places, the professors, or your boss aren’t always that much older than you. They don’t always have more education than you. They expect a student or colleague to make inquiries, to think beyond the obvious answer. To blindly agree with every statement they make or to be too intimidated to have a discussion and ask the question why is not acceptable at that stage, because it impedes progress and innovation. I was fortunate in my time at St. Elizabeth to have teachers who did not speak down to me as a child, but talked with me as a person. Early on, I was encouraged to ask questions and look for the reasoning behind everything. I was not scolded for refusing to accept “because it’s in the book” as a sufficient answer. This element of my educational foundation has made me able to form productive professional relationships, in which case someone may be both an authority figure and an equal, and these professional relationships are rooted in effective communication and mutual respect, which was something I learned a long time before I began thinking about higher education and careers.
Lastly, I’d like to cover taking the initiative to complete goals. In order for elementary education to be efficient, there has to be some structure. Certain concepts and skills need to be taught to a large group of individuals in a set amount of time. But for areas within school and outside of the classroom, a student has more freedom. Sports, Forensic Speaking, Robotics, Band. These extracurricular activities are exactly that: extra. No one imposes a schedule on the student for how adept they have to be at instrument or with a basketball. The student’s own motivation to be successful drives them to participate and excel in these activities. Internal motivation is not taught, but it is very valuable going forward in education and beyond. That’s why it is so important for elementary schools to facilitate students developing this skill by providing extracurricular activities. I was in forensic speaking during my time at St. Elizabeth. I don’t like public speaking. Giving this speech makes me uncomfortable. I try to avoid public speaking as much as possible. But I practiced at it when I was younger because I wanted to be better at it, and I do my homework now because I want to be a better engineer. That type of motivation is something that couldn’t be taught in a classroom, I had to learn it on my own. But I just needed the right setting for that learning to take place in.
So while arithmetic and the alphabet are very crucial in early education, so crucial that every grade school covers it, other aspects, like the incorporation of technology, the quality of teachers, and the variety of extracurricular activities, are different between schools. But these details can have a large impact later on in a student's education and career. I am grateful my time at St. Elizabeth has prepared me to be where I am today, and I hope that everyone here considers the significance early childhood education can have on their child when choosing a grade school.
Kara gave this speech to the parents who attended our Curriculum Night on September 5, 2017.