Ascension Christian Superintendent Mark Pellegrin had no idea his desire to graduate “problem solvers and advanced thinkers” would result in the school receiving a national certification for its efforts to promote science, technology, engineering and math.

Pellegrin found out in early December that Ascension Christian, a prekindergarten through 12th-grade school in Gonzales with 465 students, has become the first school in Louisiana to receive a STEM certification from the nonprofit group AdvancED.

The school was in the process of renewing its national accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools when it learned that SACS and its parent group AdvancED were offering a new STEM certification.

“We looked at the standards and realized we were already doing the work and decided to go for it,” Pellegrin said.

That started the ball rolling on a lengthy review process to meet AdvancED’s 11-standard review process.

Pellegrin said the reviewers were looking for program that were interdisciplinary and taught students to research, design and implement a project to solve a problem.

Pellegrin pointed to a group of students who recently created a robot that could deliver a cup of coffee to his office.

“I’d been challenging the students to build a robot to bring me coffee for years, but this year they did it,” he said.

To accomplish the task, the students had to work together to come up with the design and figure out the math and engineering process needed.

The certification is a mark of STEM distinction and excellence only offered to schools that prioritize STEM education as a path to success, Pellegrin said.

In earning the certification, Ascension Christian School “has demonstrated its commitment to preparing its students for their educational and career opportunities of the future by ensuring its students will have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in their postsecondary pursuits and as workforce contributors in the 21st century economy,” a news release from the group said.

“This certification exhibits Ascension Christian School’s commitment to addressing workforce needs by preparing our students with the relevant skills and experiences to succeed while demonstrating to the private-sector that we are committed to driving higher levels of student achievement for their STEM pipeline,” Pellegrin said. “STEM certification will continue to uphold our school to high standards while providing a clear roadmap for us to continuously improve our STEM disciplines and program.”

AdvancED’s STEM Certification reviewers examined the school’s STEM education efforts and programs. Reviewers also interviewed school administrators, STEM faculty and staff, parents, students and community partners in order to verify the school’s commitment to connecting students’ STEM experiences in the classroom to the local community and the world at large, Pellegrin said.

Ascension Christian School is owned by the Household of Faith Church leading Christian education for families in Ascension Parish for more than 30 years.

AdvancED is a nonprofit organization that operates three regional accrediting agencies and serves as a partner to 32,000 schools and school systems.

“We couldn’t believe we were the first in Louisiana to complete the process, and we couldn’t be prouder,” he said.