Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York  

Yonkers Public Schools Partner with GSE for STEM Learning Lab

Contact: Gina Vergel
(212) 636-7175

These soon-to-be Yonkers public school seventh graders enjoyed summer school at the Yonkers/Fordham STEM lab.
Photos by Angie Chen
Few children would agree that failing a class and then attending school in July qualifies as a fun summer.

But that’s exactly what happened over 17 days last month, thanks to a program co-developed and implemented by Fordham’s Center for Educational Partnerships (CEP).

About 100 sixth graders who failed at least two subjects discovered the excitement of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in the “Grade 6 STEM Learning Lab” at Yonkers High School.

Fordham consultants worked with teachers in their classrooms to instill a problem-solving approach to the lessons, and held professional development sessions on the collaborative style afterward.

The result was a hugely successful poster presentation session on July 29 at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus.

Twelve-year-old Jean Hakim beamed as he explained what he and his classmates researched on air pollution.

“We measured our carbon footprints,” said Hakim, who will enter seventh grade in the fall. “We learned about hybrid cars and then we got to poke around in one in the parking lot. It was so much fun.”

Hakim’s enthusiasm was matched by the roughly 100 children who presented their findings at Duane Library in front of their peers, family and teachers.

Kraig DeMatteis, a technical and curriculum developer with Fordham's RETC, works with a Yonkers student on preparing a video presentation.
Ann Marie Ciaramella, assistant to the dean of Fordham’s Graduate School of Education (GSE), said the outcome brought a flurry of positive reactions from educators in the program.

“Every single one of the teachers told us that the students in their classes were very bright, very verbal and really participated,” she said. “They’d ask, ‘Why are they here? They should have passed!’ Well, they’ve passed now because the environment was different.”

Ciaramella, who has worked with the Yonkers Public Schools on other professional development initiatives, said the district won a grant to bring innovative STEM education to students and sought Fordham’s help to develop a program.

“It is gratifying to see GSE work reaching not only teachers, but their students as well,” said James J. Hennessy, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Education.

“Making connections to maximize resources and increase achievement is what we are all about,” added Anita Vazquez Batisti, Ph.D., associate dean and director of CEP.

Amanda Curley, director of school improvement with Yonkers Public Schools, said district administrators questioned the effectiveness of regular summer schools, where students sit for two hours a day over six weeks reviewing materials that they already had failed.

Students presented posters, videos and more to parents, teachers and friends.
“Is that the way to ensure they’ve mastered the skills they didn’t have before? We weren’t sure about that,” she said. “We also knew that short summer programs for students that hadn’t failed yielded tremendous results. So why not let all students have the experience?

“It’s been wonderful and we plan to do it again. When you have students who have been failing school and they come in here and are so excited about what they’ve learned and done, it’s a lesson for all of us,” Curley added.

The program paired a science and elementary school teacher with a Fordham consultant and assigned them to a cluster of no more than 13 students. Each group researched air, water or land pollution.

There were no textbooks or pre-determined lessons. Students drew upon their own experiences, using problem-solving techniques and inquiry, and conducted research using the Internet, trade magazines and journals and experiences in the field.

Technology played a large role; staff from Fordham’s RETC: Center for Professional Development worked with Ciaramella and consultants from CEP.

“We came up with the idea of the students documenting what they were doing through digital storytelling,” said Kraig DeMatteis, a technical and curriculum developer at RETC.

Students used Flip cameras and free video editing software to piece together a documentary or news story on what they learned.

“Here are kids who failed two subjects,” DeMatteis said, “yet they were able to shoot footage and produce videos within a week. To see the projects and the success that they’ve had, I think it’s saying something major.”

Sunitha Howard, a science teacher at Ralph Waldo Emerson Middle School, agreed.

“This is the most fun we’ve had so far—teachers and students,” she said. “The kids had so many hidden talents that we were able to showcase. We’re very excited.”

Founded in 1841, Fordham is the Jesuit University of New York, offering exceptional education distinguished by the Jesuit tradition to approximately 14,700 students in its four undergraduate colleges and its six graduate and professional schools. It has residential campuses in the Bronx and Manhattan, a campus in Westchester, the Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station in Armonk, N.Y., and the London Centre at Heythrop College in the United Kingdom.

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