We believe the future of education depends on asking more “what if” questions. What if we tried something new? What if we changed the way we’ve always been doing things?
We always encourage our students to take on challenges with curiosity and creativity. What if we teachers took our advice more often?
Recently, our schools have been asking ourselves the what-if question – what if we participate in the New Jersey STEM Initiative?
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Through this initiative, qualified New Jersey public school teachers teach science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM) subjects in nonpublic schools. The New Jersey Department of Education pays teachers’ salaries, thanks to coordination by Teach NJ, an arm of the Orthodox Union that advocates for funding for non-public schools.
Our next generation needs strong STEM skills to succeed professionally. Our students need to learn skills ranging from critical thinking and project management to innovation and teamwork. These are the tools of the future.
This basic need, along with the advantage of adding STEM teachers to our faculty at no additional cost, has made it possible for our schools to experience the program. It was clear from the start that both our school made the right decision. And after three years of the program, we continue to reap tremendous financial, educational and practical benefits from it.
Most importantly, we can offer additional courses to our students without increasing our school budgets or charging parents fees. The money we used to spend paying STEM teachers is now available to enhance our students’ experiences in other ways.
The program also addresses the significant challenges we face in recruiting dynamic, knowledgeable teachers who also fit well in the seminary environment. Finding qualified STEM teachers, when there is a growing shortage of them in New Jersey, adds another layer of complexity. The New Jersey STEM Initiative has allowed our schools to bring in faculty who meet all of these criteria.
At Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, we pride ourselves on our highly advanced STEM program. We provide students with access to advanced laboratory equipment and learn skills at the college and graduate level, such as genetic testing and mapping. Even with our broad program, the New Jersey STEM Initiative has allowed us to provide students with more opportunities for scientific exploration.
For example, new educators have expanded our program in Computer Aided Design and Robotics. The CAD teacher uses our lab and equipment to integrate high-level computer science and technology education into our curriculum. The robotics teacher has partnered the robotics team at Livingston High School with a team from Israel to compete in the International Robotics Competition. This perspective and experience, along with our resources, create an exciting synergy that benefits our students and teachers.
Teachers respect our school’s culture and values, and value the enthusiasm and motivation of our students. They bring perspective and insight from the public school system. Together, we have created a new dynamic relationship with the public school community.
At Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, we have four teachers who are funded through this program. Each of them has experience and accuracy and has added to the professionalism of our employees. As a result of these new teachers and funding, we are now able to offer both a traditional science track – biology, chemistry and physics – and an applied science track, with courses in engineering, technology, coding and robotics. Most importantly, teachers understand our values and make sure that everything they teach fits with our school’s mission.
Thanks to this New Jersey STEM program, our school now boasts a strong science department that enables our students to prepare for careers in medicine and computer science.
If you know a school that could benefit from the New Jersey STEM program, tell its leaders that applications for the 2022-23 school year will be due in late March. Anyone interested can contact Teach NJ for more information.
Now, Jewish schools and day schools in New Jersey are in for a while. What if we thought about adding public school STEM teachers to our schools? What if we could better educate our students to be leaders and thinkers of our future? Fortunately, you don’t need to be an engineer to know the answer.
Rabbi Eliezer Rubin is School Principal at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Ray Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston
Rabbi Aryeh Stichler is the Roch yeshiva and Dean of Heshal Hattorah in Teaneck.