What if we try something new?
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OPINION

What if we try something new?

The benefits of the New Jersey STEM initiative

We believe that the future of education rests on asking more “what if” questions. What if we try something new? What if we change how we’ve always done things?

We always encourage our students to approach challenges with curiosity and creativity. What if we educators were to take our own advice more often?

Recently, our schools asked ourselves a what if question — what if we participate in the New Jersey STEM Initiative?

Through this initiative, qualified New Jersey public school teachers teach Science, Technology, Math and Engineering — STEM — subjects in nonpublic schools. The New Jersey Department of Education pays the teachers’ salaries, thanks to coordination by Teach NJ, the arm of the Orthodox Union that advocates for nonpublic school funding.

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 essential need, along with the advantage of adding STEM teachers to our faculty at no additional cost, made it possible for our schools to give the program a try. It was clear from the start that both of our schools made the right choice. And three years into 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. Funds we otherwise would spend on paying STEM teachers now are available to enhance our students’ experiences in other ways.

The program also addresses the significant challenges we face in recruiting knowledgeable, dynamic teachers who also fit well into a yeshiva environment. Finding qualified STEM teachers, when there’s a growing shortage of them in New Jersey, adds another layer of complexity. The New Jersey STEM Initiative has made it possible for our schools to bring on faculty members who meet all of these criteria.

At Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, we pride ourselves on our very sophisticated STEM program. We offer students access to advanced laboratory equipment and they learn college- and graduate school-level skills, such as genetic testing and mapping. Even with our extensive program, the New Jersey STEM Initiative has allowed us to provide students more opportunities for scientific exploration.

For example, the new teachers expanded our program in Computer Assisted Design and robotics. The CAD teacher uses our laboratory and equipment to incorporate high level computer science and technology instruction into our curriculum. The robotics teacher partnered her Livingston High School robotics team with a team from Israel to compete in an international robotics competition. That perspective and expertise, combined with our resources, creates an exciting synergy that benefits our students and teachers.

The teachers respect our school’s culture and values, and they appreciate our students’ excitement and motivation. They bring perspective and insight from the public school system. Together, we have created a dynamic new relationship with the public school community.

At Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, we have four teachers who are funded through this program. Each one is experienced, thorough, and has added to the professionalism of our staff. As a result of these new teachers and funding, we now are able to offer both the traditional science track — biology, chemistry, and physics — and an applied sciences track, with courses in engineering, technology, coding, and robotics. Importantly, the teachers understand our values and make sure that everything they teach fits into our school’s mission.

It is thanks to this New Jersey STEM program that our school now boasts a robust science department that enables our students to prepare for careers in medicine and computer science.

If you know a school who could benefit from the New Jersey STEM Program, let its leaders know that applications for the 2022-23 school year are due in late March. Anyone who is interested can contact Teach NJ for more information.

Right now, New Jersey yeshivas and day schools are at a what if moment. What if we think about adding public school STEM teachers to our schools? What if we can better educate our students to be the leaders and thinkers of our future? Luckily, you don’t need to be an engineer to know the answer.

Rabbi Eliezer Rubin is the head of school at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston

Rabbi Aryeh Stechler is rosh yeshiva and dean of Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck.

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