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Students enjoy hammer time at St. John Paul II groundbreaking

They came from Pasadena and Glendale, from schools such as St. Bede the Venerable in La Cañada Flintridge to St. Terese of Avila in Silver Lake.

Several students from St. John Paul II STEM Academy at Bellarmine-Jefferson's inaugural class took turns playing Thor, or perhaps more aptly, the Property Brothers, in helping demolish a wall during a groundbreaking ceremony Monday.

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"This is an exciting time for the school because the construction deal has been signed, so that's awesome, and now it's time to work," said Bridget Higgins, St. John Paul II's dean of academic excellence. "So that's why, tonight, we're going to start with the wall-breaking."

During December and January, St. John Paull II's staff laid the groundwork during open houses and information nights as to what the Roman Catholic high school's curriculum would encompass.

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St. John Paull II STEM Academy at Bellarmine-Jefferson hosted a groundbreaking on Monday afternoon on its campus, which is built upon the former Bellarmine-Jefferson High School campus. Students took turns swinging a 16-pound hammer on a wall in what will eventually become the school’s engineering lab.

The co-institutional science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, academy will offer two pathways — digital media arts or engineering — along with traditional classes and religious instruction.

The doors are set to open in August on the site of former Bellarmine-Jefferson High School, which shuttered its doors in this past June after operating for 74 years.

While much emphasis surrounding the school since its announced opening last summer has focused on curriculum, pricing and class sizes, Monday offered a community-building opportunity for students, who were given an option to swing either a 16-ounce claw hammer or 16-pound sledgehammer — with everyone choosing the latter.

Seven red Xs were spray-painted on the blue front wall of what was once the campus ministry classroom of 15-year Bell-Jeff teacher and counselor Jean Essa, who was in attendance.

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"I give you guys the honors to break down this wall," Essa said.

St. John Paull II STEM Academy at Bellarmine-Jefferson hosted a groundbreaking on Monday afternoon on its campus, which is built upon the former Bellarmine-Jefferson High School campus. Students took turns swinging a 16-pound hammer on a wall in what will eventually become the school’s engineering lab.

The wall's demolition will make room from the school's engineering lab, which is scheduled to be ready by August.

While talk of future plans was exciting for some, others enjoyed the simple pleasure that comes from from destruction.

"I enjoy breaking things a lot, so that was fun," said Glendale resident Jace Izuno, who attends Pasadena Assumption School.

Izuno and his future classmates were each given a gift bag containing a school sweater, T-shirt and stickers before the groundbreaking.

Parents and children also met members of Bell-Jeff's community, including City Councilman and alumnus Tim Murphy and Essa's husband, Eli, who is a former basketball coach.

"I just want to say that we have a great alumni base here that is not going to give up on the Bellarmine-Jefferson of this school," Eli Essa said to students. "We are St. John Paul STEM Academy at Bellarmine-Jefferson. So, there is going to be a lot of people praying for you, pulling for you to succeed."

Before the groundbreaking ceremony, Higgins divided the students into groups of three or four and gave them a 15-minute team-building project, while founding director Jeff Hilger spoke with parents.

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At the end of the 15 minutes, the student groups established team roles as either builders, communicators or visualizers and demonstrated completed projects to their parents.

Some groups built towers, and others constructed paper airplanes.

"This is why I'm excited to come here," said student Thelma Corado, of St. Teresa of Avila School in Silver Lake. "I want to hear more about the technology."

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