focus on stem

Robots, Legos, and a famous chef at city’s new summer STEM training

PHOTO: Sabrina Rodriguez
Former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses shows teachers how to make yeast.

Eileen McManus-Reddan, a special education teacher at Brooklyn’s J.H.S. 62, found herself watching a former White House pastry chef make steamed buns on Thursday.

The demonstration by Bill Yosses, who made soufflés for President Barack Obama until 2014, presumably used far fewer ingredients than he would have found in his old kitchen and relied on just a hot plate. The goal, he explained, was to give McManus-Reddan and her colleagues a new way to explain the science of food, featuring homemade (or school-made) yeast.

“It’s something that students at any level can enjoy learning,” McManus-Reddan explained after the workshop.

She was taking part in STEM Institute, a new three-day training program for city teachers that finished its second session on Thursday. Its workshops skewed toward the unconventional, combining academic topics with cooking, video games, gardening, and Legos.

The program, which officials said was attended by more than 400 teachers, continues the city’s effort to expand and improve teaching in math, science, engineering, and technology — and to highlight those efforts. Chancellor Carmen Fariña made a separate appearance at a STEM summer program on Thursday, and officials said the city was releasing a new STEM-focused teaching guide this week as well.

“Science teachers are really going to actually, this coming year, have more extensive training than any year prior to this,” Fariña said at the kickoff of Summer of STEM, a collection of programs run out of New York University’s Polytechnic School of Engineering for teachers and students.

In a brief speech, Fariña said that she wants to see more teachers of younger students incorporating science and technology into their classrooms, starting with pre-kindergarten.

“There was a feeling and a time that STEM was for high school kids,” Fariña said.

The two STEM efforts are made possible by outside funding. The NYU event was celebrating a major grant from the National Science Foundation and venture capitalists Fred and Joanne Wilson, which will help further fund its teacher training programs. Some of the separate STEM Institute workshops were also put on by vendors, like Legos, which makes materials for teaching math.

The goal of the STEM Institute, which trained a first group of teachers this spring, is to introduce elementary, middle, and high school teachers to hands-on projects that connect to specific Common Core learning standards. The city is also trying to make those connections clearer with new guidelines for teaching a variety of science, technology, and engineering topics in each grade, similar to the “scope and sequence” it released in June for science alone and last September for social studies.

Jessika Rosen, a special education teacher at J.H.S. George J. Ryan in Flushing who co-facilitated a robotics session, said she often worked with teachers who weren’t sure how to do hands-on projects while facing pressure to align their teaching to the new standards.

“That’s my big part — showing how they don’t have to be scared to stray away from their curriculum,” Rosen said. “There’s just so many skills you can get from a robot.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.