STEM Steps In (To Tutor)

Elsa Berisha, Staff Writer

A year and a half ago, as a new initiative, the New Providence School District made it a priority to expand STEM throughout New Providence schools.  Over the recent months, New Providence has been able to successfully integrate STEM into the curriculum with new classes such as Introduction to Engineering Design, Principles of Engineering, and Biomedical Engineering, and with the expansion of the STEM Club.  Mr. Keaney, Department Head of STEM, has made it a goal to not only build on the foundation of STEM in the high school, but also in the elementary and middle schools.  He has worked to create a seamless K-12 STEM integration in the schools, and create connections with the community by forming ties with local technology and engineering companies like Linde Corporation and Bell Labs.

As part of this initiative, NPHS students Chris Kang and Kareena Kullar have founded a district-wide tutoring program to inspire students.

As President of the NPHS STEM Club, Chris Kang, met with Mr. Keaney earlier this year in order to discuss possible ways to advance the Club.  Kang felt that although the club had a solid foundation built around various engineering challenges and competitions, there were other ways to take that foundation to the next level and stimulate a deeper and broader interest in STEM.  He came up with several initiatives, one of which was the idea of a volunteer tutoring program to mentor students in the elementary schools.

Kang recruited the aid of Kullar, Treasurer of the STEM Club, to help make the idea possible. Together they met with the Salt Brook Elementary School principal, Mrs. Drexinger, who was excited about the idea of a tutoring program.

She said: “It’s really wonderful to see our High School friends working with the younger students in the district in the after school tutoring program. This mentor program benefits all students involved and helps to foster friendships at both levels.”

With Mrs. Drexinger’s approval, Kang and Kullar created fliers that were sent out to Salt Brook’s Friday folder, and to their delight received a high level of interest from parents.  After they would have an open library, permission slips from students, and other logistics necessary to kick off the program, they recruited individuals from both the STEM Club and the Future Civic Leaders Club to join the program as volunteers.

Kang is impressed by how many NPHS student want to help:  “The level of enthusiasm from tutors and students alike was outstanding. My goal was to inspire young minds in STEM while also providing a valuable mentoring experience to high school students, and I think we have accomplished just that and more.”

Mr. Keaney is impressed with the work put into the creation of the program in general: “I commend Chris and Kareena for all their work in putting this program together and for helping move the STEM initiative forward.”

The tutors meet on Mondays from 3-4 pm in the Salt Brook library. They teach students from grades 3 to 6 with an emphasis on math and science topics, but are flexible to help the students in other areas such as creative writing. The elementary students are grouped by grade and their interests, and then mentored one-on-one in order to nurture them to the best of their abilities. The program is already filled with over 50 tutors and elementary students and Kullar states that the first few sessions “ran really well. It’s great to have the chance to do this because when I was young, I never had this opportunity. They are the future, so it feels amazing to set a precedent for these younger students.”

Kang and Kullar hope to expand the program to other schools in the District and nearby towns as well.

Along with the tutoring initiative, the STEM Club also offers a series of intra-club competitions and workshops to expose students to real-life engineering challenges and encourage bonding.  Kang also aims to establish a Guest Speaker Program where the club invites various STEM professionals to the high school to speak about their field, possible career paths, and inspire students. Although the students of the STEM Club are already honored with state and regional awards in the Technology Student Association, NJ STEM League competitions, Verizon App Challenge, and NJ Thomas Edison Invention Challenge to name a few, the recent STEM initiatives serve to link students’ academic interest in STEM to application in the real world.

STEM Club Advisor Mrs. Moser continues to be grateful for the students and their initiatives, stating that she is “pleased with the initiative and outstanding character of these students in the STEM Club, especially the president, Chris Kang, who set up the tutoring program, organized his peers, worked with the Salt Brook principal, Mrs. Drexinger, and created a successful volunteer outlet for our high school students to contribute to our school community.”