Thursday, June 20, was the last day of school for the students of Delran. However, it was also the day that Gov. Murphy’s wife, Tammy, stopped in to learn about Delran’s efforts in teaching STEM and sustainability. Accompanied by the coordinators of STEM Initiatives for Delran Schools, Mary Jo Hutchinson and Erica DiMichele, along with Superintendent Brian Brotschul, Mayor Ken Paris, Green Team Member Al Carp and a host of Delran teachers, the first lady and her chief of staff, Stephanie Lagos, walked through the halls of Millbridge Elementary School and Delran High School learning about all of the things Delran offers.
One of the first STEM and sustainable projects Murphy learned about in Delran High School was the Delran Back to Eden Garden. The garden was an idea built out of the STEAM Summer Camp Program in 2018 and started through a $10,000 project grant from the Sustainable Jersey for Schools organization. The idea around the garden is to use a former underutilized area to create edible and dye gardens, harness stormwater runoff through rain gardens and expand both horticulture and technology programs.
After initially seeing where the Back to Eden Garden would be placed, Murphy was led to Aaron Flordimondo, the horticulture teacher at the high school, to discuss permaculture and its effects on the school and community, and then to the newly built Fabrication Lab.
According to DiMichele, the Fab Lab was another underutilized area in the school. The former auto garage was used as a storage facility prior to turning it into an area where the students can learn how to create solutions through STEM projects.
“We want to get the kids thinking about STEM early,” said Hutchinson. “A lot of the time for females, by the time they reach eighth grade, they already think that the STEM field isn’t for them, but we want to provide the opportunity to teach them that they can also be an engineer if they want to.”
For Hutchinson and DiMichele, having the opportunity to show off their projects to Murphy is a great way to raise awareness and show her exactly where funding is going in the district.
“I hope her story goes viral and raises awareness,” said DiMichele. “Sustainable Jersey for Schools has grown enormously since 2014, and I know their goal is to get all of the schools in the state of New Jersey to be participating. If parents are being educated by their children and the children are asking questions, that sparks the evolution of our sustainable practices.
“I think a lot of people think that these kind of [STEM and sustainable] initiatives take a lot of effort,” Hutchinson continued. “They do when you get to a big level, but there are little things that you can do today. To take the first step doesn’t necessarily require a huge amount of effort and it can be doable for a lot of other districts.”