Tuxedo’s STEM Academy plans taking shape

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TUXEDO — The vision of a Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics (STEM) academy is developing at George F. Baker High School now that school officials have announced a very preliminary curriculum plan.

While the school doesn’t expect its curriculum to be finalized until possibly this summer, officials have revealed a new, initial class offering which will be mandated for all incoming freshmen this fall.

Called “Freshmen Foundations: Gateway to Tomorrow,” this required class will serve as an introduction to STEM and will be integrated into other subjects such as math, ELA, science and social studies so connections become obvious, according to District Superintendent Carol Lomascolo and Baker Principal Denis Petrilak.

‘Innovative learning’
“The focus is on those content areas, but also innovative learning and developing a certain mindset,” said Petrilak.

The foundations class will address subject matter such as critical thinking, problem solving, project -based learning, he explained, in addition to digital literacy, global awareness collaboration, innovation, and information, communication and technology ( ICT) literacy.

The STEM gateway class also includes an introduction to both technical sciences - which includes engineering and computer science - and life sciences - which includes environmental and health science.

Tenth grade decisions

Students will be asked to narrow their focus of interest when they enter the 10th grade.

“They will chose a direction based on their area of interest and pick two of four areas of study, either technical or life sciences, and take additional elective courses specific to those areas that will allow them to further identify their area of interest in the 11th grade,” said Lomascolo.

In the 11th grade, that area of interest will be narrowed down to one specific path of study, according to Petrilak.

“It’s important in 11th grade to designate one area, as that’s when we want them to be working with (business) partners or with higher education (partners),” he added.

Real world experience

In their senior year, the plan is to have STEM students intern with outside partners to have additional real-world experience in their field of choice as they continue with college plans.

“You can feel the electricity when you talk to the teachers,” said Lomascolo.

In the meantime, officials are reviewing material and information gathered from conferences and recent site visits to New Milford (N.J.) High School and Nanuet Middle School in Rockland County. There are plans to visit a STEM academy in northern New York State this spring.

They said are also looking at curriculum available through marketplace vendors and industry so as to have the most cutting edge program.

“We’ve learned different things, it’s helped to formulate our vision,” said Lomascolo.

The district is also continuing with its active recruitment of business partners.

“We’re always looking for more (partners), corporation or small businesses that have something to do with something STEM-related to work with our school and have students work with them side by side and possibly intern with them,” Lomascolo said. “Those partnerships will help mold our STEM Academy.”

She added: “Each time I do a presentation, community members come up and give us names and contact information. Having a wide variety (of relationships) gives us a wide variety of exposure for our students.”

Interest growing

Petrilak wanted to remind interested parties of one other aspect of Baker’s STEM program.

“One of the other important selling features is the kind of learning we will have in our program,” he added. “It’s experiential, based on dealing with real world problems and working in the industry. It’s not just conceptual knowledge.”

Lomascolo said she’s been getting a tremendous amount of positive feedback from the Tuxedo and Greenwood Lake communities about the creation of a STEM Academy at Baker.

At the time the Tuxedo Board of Education voted to approve the STEM Academy concept, it also approved the first-ever non-resident tuition policy for kindergarten through 12th grade.

The details are still being finalized for tuition rates, she added, and the district is planning an open house next month so interested parents and students can learn more about Baker and George Grant Mason School.

“We’re getting more inquiries from people outside of these two communities that we expected,” she added. “I’m just surprised in the number of people calling about STEM and a small school environment. And it’s just not for the high school, either, it’s also for our K-8 program. It’s a very exciting time for us overall.”

By Nancy Kriz

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