The city of Hoboken is working to ensure that its students have a jumpstart on 21st century careers through its partnership with Project Lead The Way (PLTW), a nonprofit organization focusing on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education in grades K-12. PLTW’s three-level course offerings include Project Launch (K-5th grade); Project Gateway (6th, 7th and 8th grades); and, at the high-school level, “Pathways” (biomedical science, computer science, or engineering.)
“After looking at other school districts that were participating in Project Lead The Way, giving them calls, and having conversations with their administrators and staff, we decided that if we were going to do this, we wanted to roll the whole program out,” says Hoboken Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Johnson. “So we are one of the few districts in the nation that actually implemented it in kindergarten through the high school.”
The district is headed into its second year of PLTW. “Being a PLTW computer science student at Hoboken High School, I am becoming more confident in how to work through computational problems and resolve complex challenges,” says Sophomore Sophia Ortiz. Emily Schroder, also a sophomore, is equally enthusiastic. “The biomedical science program has helped in many of the other courses,” she says. “I am not only able to connect content but also apply skills to projects and other rigorous assignments. I am so excited to take classes in the high school’s newly constructed biomedical science lab.”
All On Board
Christopher Della Fave, Hoboken’s Program Coordinator, says there was “zero to little resistance” among faculty and parents to integrate this new focus into its curriculum. Daily news reports of Russians’ hacking in connection with the 2016 presidential race were probably a deciding factor: Slots for courses on the creation of computer apps and the language of coding are now being carved into students’ schedules, along with traditional subjects such as history and English. “As part of our rollout, I had the opportunity to observe the teachers in order to get a pulse on the program, and I can tell you that the kids’ excitement really does drive the curriculum,” says Della Fave. “They love what they are doing.”
Gone are the days of notetaking and sitting behind a desk. Many students will likely feel more akin to criminal profilers or detectives-in-training, thanks to the innovative approach of the crime scene analysis class. Students who focus on biomedical science will have the unique opportunity to determine the cause of death of a fictional woman, Anna Garcia, over the course of an entire school year, assisted by Hoboken police officers.
Making the Grade
Prior to entering high school, Pathway students must make a commitment to attend a series of lectures as well as summer internships. Students involved in athletics or theater may not have time to devote to the rigors of the program. Still, they are welcome to take any one of the PLTW paths as an elective.
“Our philosophy in Hoboken is very much directed toward giving kids opportunities and never to stand in their way and be an obstacle,” says Johnson. “So while the students apply to get into the PLTW programs, it is very rare that a student wouldn’t be accepted unless the kid really cannot articulate why it is important to him or her.”
The Back Story
PLTW, which was founded in 1997, is currently used in 10,500 schools across the country. “When you go into a PLTW classroom, you really see something that looks a lot different than the traditional classroom,” says Jennifer Erbacher, PLTW’s senior director of media and public relations. “Teachers are more than likely walking around to students who are working in groups and very actively engaged in their learning. Teachers are acting as facilitators instead of being that person in front of the class lecturing.”
Schools that use PLTW pay an annual fee at the elementary/middle school level of $750 and $2,000 to $3,000 at the high-school level.
Verizon, Lockheed Martin, and Toyota have donated funds which are used as grants to schools who want to implement PLTW. Verizon has donated more than $8 million to assist with computer science courses.
Students can visit pltw.org for more information.
“Having conversations with principals and teachers in the fields of science and math, it was apparent that we really needed to bring something that was both educational but also skill-based that was relevant and hands-on to our students,” says Della Fave. “I saw the need where our students would be productive members of our community, and this was a great way to address that.”
It’s apparently working. “We’ve been collecting testimonials from the kids,” says Johnson. “I’ve seen anything from ‘I was never a confident student, and now I feel like I am a problem solver’ to ‘I feel like I can tackle the world!’
“We have kids who never thought of the possibility of going to college because no one in their family had gone,” she says. “But now they are being connected to all types of colleges and universities as a result of the program, and they can’t wait to explore those options.”—07030