Winslow Township students participate in STEM Day

Third and eighth grade students combined their creativity and analytical skills to complete hands-on projects in STEM classes.

Faith Hall, Skye Raymond and Marilorena Rivera use the microscope to find water bears.

Third graders from Winslow Township School No. 3 visited eighth graders from Ross Cruz’s Environmental STEM classes and Michelle Peccini’s Robotics STEM classes at Winslow Township Middle School for the district’s first annual STEM Day. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and students are able to combine their creativity and analytical skills to complete a variety of hands-on projects.

Winslow Township School District is piloting a STEM program at School No. 3 and is thinking about expanding it to other schools in the district. Principal Stella Nwanguma said Superintendent H. Major Poteat’s vision is to have the youngsters experience what the middle schools are learning in STEM classes and to not be nervous during the tradition into a new school.

“One of the ideas is to ensure we train our students, and when they see the types of programs we have, they have no trepidation about coming to middle school and experiencing what we have to offer,” Nwanguma said.

Environmental STEM teacher helps third graders Anthony Colan Siligrini and Angelina Pentz use the microscopes.

“This is an opportunity to expose the elementary kids to our standard curriculum,” Cruz said. “We really want them to have an opportunity to be familiar with the STEM process, and we’ve created such a great program in the middle school that we would love to create a feeder program at the elementary school, because that’s the direction of the professions right now. That’s the future, that’s where all the jobs are going to be and really trying to get the students involved in these four content areas.”

During the Environmental STEM classes, students collected water samples and identified microorganisms. Cruz instructed the students to navigate and find tardigrades, also known as water bears through the microscopes. Then, they recorded video and took photos of it.

“Finding water bears is kind of fun,” third grader Sharee Watkins said.

Eighth grader Lauren Pies help third graders Faith Hall and Loken Kavaliauskas look for water bears.

Eighth grader Lauren Pies loved working with the younger students, and the main thing she hoped they learned from this experience is they won’t be right the first time; there’s a lot of trial and error.

“For example, with the microscopes, we didn’t get anything really interesting on the first slide.” she said. “We tried again, and what matters is you work together and keep going. I love that I get to teach kids and help them learn about things that I love learning about. It’s really interesting to see them work hard.”

“It’s amazing to see what they know compared to what I knew in third grade,” fellow eighth grader Kyle Meumann said.

During the Robotics STEM classes, students were taught circuitry and creating electricity by using magnetic circuits.

Jason Allen creates electricity using a magnetic circuit.

Third grader Kelly Buniak loved robotics because she liked figuring out how to create electricity.

“I like engineering and making things because you can use your imagination,” she said.

With the success of STEM Day and all the accolades Cruz has received over the past year, he credits the school district for giving him the opportunity to expand the STEM program, which he says got him to this point.

“When they approached me with the opportunity to create an environmental STEM program based on the program that was created through Ms. Peccini, they gave me free range and an opportunity to take it any direction I wanted,” he said. “They gave me the flexibility, the options, the training, and I ran with it. As a result of that, with their trust and their vision, we’ve taken it to levels I never expected.”

Eighth graders, third graders and staff from both schools pose for a picture at the conclusion of STEM Day.

The following morning after STEM Day, Cruz and Winslow Township Middle School won $15,000 in the Bernzomatic Find Your Fire Community Grants Program. The winnings will go toward a new maker space, where all classes will have a designated work space to research, brainstorm and design projects, and it will also go toward converting the school courtyard into an outdoor classroom flower beds, pollinated gardens for vegetables and rain barrels for the school’s STEM programs. HGTV’s Nicole Curtis will come to the school in spring to construct these projects. Winslow Township Middle School was the only school in the contest from the northeast.

This is one of numerous awards Cruz has won over the past year. He was named 2015–2016 teacher of the year in his school district, won three awards and grants the same year and was an honoree at the 2016 Axalta All-Pro Teachers Program in partnership with the Philadelphia Eagles.

“This is fantastic,” Cruz said after receiving word his school won. “I’m really proud of how we came together as a community and win this for the kids, that’s what it’s all about. This grant opens up opportunities for science classrooms and health classrooms to use that space for instruction. It opens up endless possibilities for how we can construct and provide for our students. It’s really exciting.”