Source: Excerpted from the Bergen Record -
The Pascack Valley Regional High School District’s robotics team met with state education officials and lawmakers on Thursday to start a conversation on how to build similar programs in “underserved” school districts across New Jersey.
A group of students and their mentors from the robotics team, the Pascack Pi-oneers, spoke to the state education commissioner, David Hespe; the assistant commissioner, Evo Popoff; Norah Peck, the interim executive superintendent for Bergen County; and members of Governor Christie’s policy office at Pascack Hills High School.
The students detailed the advantages that the program has offered them and their belief that state education officials should focus on bringing mentor-based science, technology, engineering, arts and math programs — or STEAM – into districts throughout the state. Such programs would be particularly beneficial, they said, in districts with large numbers of students who struggle academically.
Assemblyman Robert Auth, who attended the presentation, said he was “impressed” by the students and wanted to bring the different stakeholders together to discuss the possibility of beginning to roll out more STEAM programs.
“This is a great opportunity, we have a situation where we have mentors who are sowing the seeds of ingenuity in fertile minds,” said Auth, an Old Tappan Republican. “They’ve created this model that is so exceptional. You are creating an environment where students can be safe and still explore their curiosity in a safe manner, and then take it to the next level to become something totally dynamic in the community.”
Members of the Pi-oneers team, which was founded in 2004 and has nearly 80 students at Pascack Hills and Pascack Valley high schools, said they hoped funding from the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which President Obama signed late last year to replace the No Child Left Behind act, could be used to launch mentor-based after-school STEAM programs throughout the state.
The Pi-oneers stressed that their research found that students in groups with mentors, like the Pi-oneers, are more likely to be interested in going to college, taking challenging math or science courses and pursuing careers in jobs that make use of those skills.
The meeting ended with the state officials discussing funding options and the possibility of including corporations to help launch programs. They also were shown two of the robots the Pi-oneers built for competitions around the country.