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SMHS gala will help update school’s science labs

04/05/2019 | Comments

COLORADO SPRINGS. In 1969, Neil Armstrong famously made “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” when he became the first person to walk on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Fifty years later, St. Mary’s High School, inspired by that famous scientific event, hopes to make one giant leap for its students at this year’s “Out of This World”-themed Annual Gala. Funds raised during the 2019 special Gift from the Heart appeal at the gala will be used to bring the school’s science labs into the 21st century. The gala is Saturday, April 27, at The Antlers Hotel and will include dinner, a silent and live auction, dancing and more. For more information about the gala, to register online or to donate to the Gift from the Heart appeal, visit

Throughout its 130-plus year history, St. Mary’s High School has developed a tradition of producing students who become top-notch professionals in their science fields. These professionals credit their St. Mary’s teachers — from Sister Valerie in the 1960s to the school’s current science faculty of Kathy Hanshew, Al Hartzell, Nora Frederick, Suzanne Tibbits, and Vince Nigro — with inspiring and encouraging them to pursue their dreams. But as science course offerings have grown and technology has advanced, St. Mary’s science labs have become out of date and in need of renovation.

Kathy Hanshew, science department chair, has been at St. Mary’s High School for 40 years, and the lab tables in both the chemistry and biology labs predate her tenure with the school. When St. Mary’s moved to its current Yampa Street campus, Hanshew drew up plans to update the science labs. “It would be wonderful to finally move forward on the updates,” she said.

Lack of space is a major issue with five science teachers vying for lab time, said science teacher Al Hartzell. He does several labs as demonstrations for his classes instead of hands-on activities with the students because there isn’t enough time in the lab.

“With another full time lab, and an update to the current labs, we could have students in the lab on nearly a daily basis,” Hartzell said.

Physics teacher Suzanne Tibbits often must utilize the hallways or gym for her physics labs since the current labs are lacking in both space and equipment for physics and physical science.

“The needs for physics and physical science courses are vastly different from biology and chemistry courses,” Tibbits said. “The students need open space to work, build and test. The labs can take several days to complete and when that occurs in a shared lab, other classes have no access during those times. It can be quite challenging to share one space amongst five teachers and all of our classes. I look forward to the day when my students can engineer their Rube Goldberg projects in a space designed especially for them!”

Hartzell said updating the labs is imperative if St. Mary’s wants to continue its tradition of producing top-notch science graduates.

“The majority of the universities want to see that entering students have had three to four full lab courses,” he said. “Modernizing our current labs and converting rooms into new labs devoted to physics and physical science will put our students at the forefront of graduating students in the state. There are no negative outcomes from this endeavor,  and it should be the priority of everyone with an interest in the future of St. Mary’s High School.”

(Amy G. Partain is director of communications for St. Mary’s High School.)

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