Newark schools set sights on STEM

MHA Board Member Maura Horgan talks about STEM initiative in Newark City Schools.

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NEWARK – As the Director of Curriculum and Staff Development for Newark City Schools, Maura Horgan’s job is to listen to what students want to study.

And from what she’s heard, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics seems to be exactly what they’ve wanted.

“I come from a teaching background. I was an English teacher with the district for a number of years, but I’m very much a STEM proponent,” Horgan said. “I have seen just how much it can make a difference in students’ lives.”

“With that difference, I can see the value to creating more STEM opportunities for more of our students.”

Whether that means continuing popular courses or creating new courses, Horgan is dedicated to seeing NCS students get the STEM education they need, both inside and outside the classrooms.

Student participation in STEM activities offered outside the classroom has grown every year, from STEMFest to robotics teams.

“We’re not making a point of pushing students into participating, they want the opportunity to engage and we’re just listening to them,” Horgan said.

Robotics has been a popular avenue for students to employ science. This is the third year for the district to have middle school teams, which have grown in number since they started.

That interest has started to carry over into high school students, who have their own robotics competitions.

“There are varieties for the students based on their age and they have different mediums to work on their robots, but they’re all relative, like working with a Mac or a PC,” Horgan said.

With more STEM coming available to students sooner, Horgan is making sure teachers are adapting to keep up.

“The curriculum is changing because STEM is happening for students sooner and we don’t want them to fall behind or have a gap in training,” she said. “The students are getting more STEM education and the teachers are getting more professional training.”

“So it’s a win-win for everyone. “

By encouraging more STEM at schools, students are coming away with more skills and receive a well-rounded experience.

“One of the things I’ve seen when I’ve visited the clubs or workshops we have, is when a student is challenged,” Horgan said. “Some of these kids have never had a challenge like this before, so they’re learning to cope with that.”

“It’s a new experience for them to struggle, but they’re learning they don’t always have to succeed on the first try and they’re learning not to give up, either.”

Horgan said she watched a little girl at one of the STEM camps the district held. Every time she figured something out, the girl would give a tiny clap to herself, and that’s the kind of reaction Horgan hopes every child can have with the STEM education.

“I hope she can keep that level of enthusiasm for learning as she gets through school and that’s what I want other children to have too, not just in their clubs, but in the classroom, too,” Horgan said.

With her English major and teaching past, Horgan said it could have been easy for her to “put the blinders on” when it came to the district’s curriculum.

“Not that reading and writing isn’t important to a student’s career, but STEM helps a child grow and allows learning beyond what reading and writing offer,” she said. “It’s very hands on and give students a full scope in their education.”

Found in The Newark Advocate August 20, 2016

 

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