Lab Work

Newark unveils state-of-the-art science center for students’ hands-on experiments

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Students from Abington Avenue School conducted experiments at the S2S Newark Technology Center on Monday.

Newark students will now be able to conduct experiments alongside professional scientists in a new state-of-the-art science center housed in the district’s downtown headquarters.

The 10,000-square-foot center features six laboratories stocked with $4 million in mostly donated instruments such as chromatographs and spectrophotometers — costly equipment found in commercial labs but rarely accessible to students. All Newark eighth-graders will visit the center twice each school year, where full-time instructors and volunteers who are working scientists will lead them in hands-on science experiments. High-school students will also occasionally use the labs.

In addition, fifth through 12th-grade students will take part in eight “virtual” lab sessions each year where scientists lead students through experiments by live video. The students will remain in their schools while the instructors broadcast out of two studios located in the center at 765 Broad Street — the downtown building where Newark Public Schools recently moved its offices. Some science teachers will also come to the center for training.

The center, which was created through a public-private partnership between the district, the city, and the nonprofit Students 2 Science, reflects growing interest among policymakers and philanthropic groups in funding education in the “STEM” fields — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM boosters point to statistics showing that companies are adding high-paying jobs in those fields at a faster rate than other sectors, but often have a hard time filling them with qualified workers.

“There are all of these jobs opening up right here in the city of Newark, throughout New Jersey, throughout the nation,” Interim Superintendent Robert Gregory said at the center’s unveiling on Monday. “It is our responsibility to prepare our students and ensure they have the skills needed to fill those positions.”

The center is a partial solution to the district’s struggles with science. Last year, 40 percent eighth-graders in Newark’s district schools passed the state science exams — compared to 74 percent of eighth-graders across New Jersey.

That may partly be due to challenges with school facilities. A 2010 report found that Newark’s “K-8 teachers are attempting to teach science without basic equipment such as faucets and sinks, lab tables, microscopes, and balances.” The report also said the district’s magnet high schools had better science facilities than its comprehensive high schools.

The center, dubbed the S2S Newark Technology Center, was established with $13 million from the district and private funders including Panasonic, PSEG, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. It will cost just under $2 million per year to operate, which will also come from a mix of public and private sources.

On Monday, Mayor Ras Baraka and Sen. Cory Booker spoke at its opening and the Panasonic Corporation of North America, which is based in Newark, announced a $1.5 million grant to support the center’s work.

Amid the celebration, eighth-graders from the North Ward’s Abington Avenue School were busy conducting experiments in the new labs.

Wearing white lab coats and protective eyewear, students in one lab measured the amount of antacid in a Tums tablet. In another, they used electroplating machines to shift the copper from pennies onto nickels.

“They really see what it would feel like to work in a laboratory,” said Fran Nelson, program director for Students 2 Science’s V-Labs and a trained chemist who previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry. “They’re using equipment that I used every day in my professional life.”

Some Abington Avenue students have previously conducted experiments in their classroom led remotely by a Students 2 Science instructor, but Monday marked their first visit to the labs. Eighth-grader Alexa Carangui said experiments at her school are limited by space and available equipment.

“In the classroom, sometimes you only get to see a teacher do it,” she said. “Here, I learn more.”

breaking

A student is in custody after Noblesville West Middle School shooting that injured another student and teacher

Police asses the scene outside Noblesville High School after a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School on May 25, 2018 (Photo by Kevin Moloney/Getty Images)

A male student shot and injured a teacher and another student at Noblesville West Middle School on Friday morning, police said.

Noblesville police Chief Kevin Jowitt said the shooting suspect asked to leave a class and returned armed with two handguns. The suspect, who police said appeared to be uninjured, is in custody and has not been identified by police.

The teacher, 29-year-old Jason Seaman, was in “good” condition Friday evening at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, police said. The female student, who was not identified by police, was in critical condition at Riley Hospital for Children.

News outlets were reporting that Seaman intervened to stop the shooter, but authorities said they could not confirm that on Friday afternoon.

The Noblesville Police Department has a full-time school resource officer assigned to the school who responded to the incident, Jowitt said. Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies also responded to the shooting.

“We do know that the situation resolved extremely quickly,” Jowitt said. “We don’t know what happened in the classroom, so I can’t make any kinds of comments about what [the resource officer’s] involvement was.”

Students were evacuated to Noblesville High School on Friday morning, where families met them.

Jowitt said an additional threat was made at the high school, but they had “no reason to believe it’s anything other than a communicated threat.”

Police continue to investigate. They said they do not believe there are additional suspects. Noblesville Police spokesman Bruce Barnes could not say how the student acquired the guns, but he said search warrants have been issued.

Noblesville West Middle School enrolls about 1,300 students. Noblesville is a suburb of Indianapolis, about 20 miles north in Hamilton County. The district has about 10,500 students.

The frenzied scenes Friday outside the school have become sadly familiar. Already, there have been 23 school shootings in 2018 that involved someone being injured or killed, according to media tallies.

Just last week, 10 people were killed and 13 others were injured in a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston. A student at the school has been arrested and charged.

In February, 17 people — 14 students and three staff — were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a 19-year-old faces multiple charges.  The Parkland tragedy set off a wave of student activism across the country — including in Indianapolis — calling for stricter gun control.

“We’ve had these shootings around the country,” said Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear. “You just never think it could happen in Noblesville, Indiana. But it did.”

Noblesville Schools Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer praised the “heroic” efforts of school staff and students, saying they followed their training on how to react to an active shooter situation.

Barnes also hinted at the broader trauma that school shootings can have on students and communities.

“We ask for your prayers for the victims in this case,” he said. “I think that would include a lot of kids, not only ones that were truly the victims in this case, but all these other kids that are trying to make sense of this situation.”

Watch the press conference:


A Chalkbeat reporter is on the scene:

In a pattern that has become routine, Democratic and Republican politicians offered prayers on Twitter.

temporary reprieve

Parents score a temporary victory in slowing the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Protesters gathered at the education department's headquarters to protest a recent set of closure plans.

A judge blocked the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school Thursday — at least for now.

Three families from P.S. 25/the Eubie Blake School filed a lawsuit in March backed by the public interest group Advocates for Justice, arguing the city’s decision to close the school was illegal because the local elected parent council was not consulted.

Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Katherine Levine did not make a final ruling Thursday about whether the closure plan violated the law. But she issued a temporary order to keep the school open while the case moves forward.

It was not immediately clear when the case will be resolved or even if the school will remain open next year. “We are reviewing the stay and will determine an appropriate course of action once the judge makes a final decision on the case,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in a statement.

The education department said the school has hemorrhaged students in recent years and is simply too small to be viable: P.S. 25 currently enrolls just 94 students in grades K-5.

“Because of extremely low enrollment, the school lacks the necessary resources to meet the needs of students,” Holness wrote. The city’s Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide oversight board that must sign off on all school closures, voted in February to close the school.

But the school’s supporters point out that despite low test scores in the past, P.S. 25 now ranks among the city’s top elementary schools, meaning that its closure would force students into lower-performing schools elsewhere.

“Why close a school that’s doing so well?” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and one of the lawsuit’s supporters. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The lawsuit hinges on a state law that gives local education councils the authority to approve any changes to school zones. Since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating them, forcing students to attend other district schools or enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.

That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to the lawsuit.

But even if the education department loses the lawsuit, the school’s fate would still be uncertain. The closure plan would theoretically be subject to a vote from the local education council, whose president supports shuttering the school.

Still, Haimson hopes the lawsuit ultimately persuades the education department to back away from closing the school in the long run.

“My goal would be to get the chancellor to change his mind,” Haimson said. “I don’t think the future is preordained.”