New Jersey Education Commissioner Witnesses and Applauds Power of Stafford Schools’ STEAM Lab

May 31, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy New Jersey Commissioner of Education Kimberley Harrington checks out the construction of a KEVA plank osprey-nest tower during one of STEAM teacher Cathy Sbailo’s classes on May 25.

Crouching next to a boy in Cathy Sbailo’s STEAM class, Kimberley Harrington marveled at the seriousness with which he was building his KEVA plank tower, aimed at standing high enough and tall enough to house an osprey nest.

“He might be the next prominent conservationist,” said the New Jersey Commissioner of Education, visiting Stafford Township’s Ronald L. Meinders Primary Learning Center for the first time on May 25. “It’s amazing to me what the students in this classroom are doing. You never know what they’ll become in life, and this is a great start to a much bigger learning process for these children. They’re being given the skills that will allow them to dream big.”

As part of a multi-pronged visit – which first included watching and speaking at the Ocean Acres School’s Support Our Troops event in the morning – Harrington dropped by PLC to get a first-hand look at the district’s latest innovation in better equipping its students in science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics. And Sbailo, who spearheaded the highly successful STEAM Night in January, was pleased to give Harrington a look into what she had dubbed the “Jersey Shore STEAM Challenge.”

“It’s an honor to have such a special guest visiting our classroom,” Sbailo said amid the bustling students engaged in their various projects for the period. “I hope she likes what she sees here.”

As part of the Jersey Shore Challenge, Sbailo’s students had the option of four different projects, all designed to connect them to objects that are utilized locally – building a better crab trap, building a sturdy osprey-nest tower, designing a boat to hold a family, and designing a beach/play area for Manahawkin Lake Park. Harrington talked with at least a half-dozen students about what they were learning through their projects.

“I love that the learning in here is so hands-on,” she said. “These students are having a lot of fun while learning, but they’re also taking it very seriously. When you introduce these kinds of concepts and initiatives at such a young age, it changes the trajectory of learning for a lifetime. As these children get older, they’re going to demand a different type of education because of all this. I think it’s great.”

After the STEAM lab visit, Harrington and Department of Education staff members accompanying her were led by Principal Lori Coyne and Superintendent George Chidiac as they toured the rest of PLC, popping into various classrooms to visit with students and teachers. At the end of her tour, Harrington praised the Stafford district for its level of forethought and providing a positive learning atmosphere for its students.

“What I saw today was incredible,” she said. “On my Twitter, I regularly post about best practices that are implemented within the schools I visit, because it’s important to me that we share the great things some schools are doing so that other districts can learn from them and maybe implement some of those things for the benefit their students. This district is doing a lot of things very well and it should be shared.”

— David Biggy

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