Advocacy for NJ Mentor Based STEAM Programs

In June, team representatives attended the FIRST National Advocacy Conference (NAC) hosted by FRC Team 27, RUSH, in Washington, D.C.. They spoke with governors, congressmen, and senators to form valuable relationships with their government officials and advocate for STEAM education legislation. Other items discussed at NAC included the positive effect of FIRST on school districts and issues teams, especially those in underserved areas, often face. NAC provided students with an inside look at issues in education policy and an opportunity to influence positive change.

The Pi-oneers were inspired by Team Rush’s establishment of NAC and decided to bring the program back to New Jersey where Advocacy for New Jersey Mentor-Based STEAM Programs was established. Meetings with government officials have been conducted to promote the allocation of federal funding from the reauthorization of ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act).

The funding is to be distributed to underserved schools in the state of New Jersey for after school MBSP (Mentor Based STEAM Programs). Attendees of the organizational meeting included Senior Policy Advisor Marci Green from Governor Christie’s office, Assemblyman Robert Auth, New Jersey Commissioner of Education David Hespe, Assistant Commissioner of Innovation Evo Popoff, Bergen County Interim Executive Superintendent Norah Peck, as well as Pascack Valley Regional High School District Superintendent Erik Gunderson, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Dr. Barry Bachenheimer, District Director of Science and Technology Education Dr. Aarti Mallya, Principal of Pascack Valley H.S. Tom DeMaio, and Principal of Pascack Hills H.S. Glenn DeMarrais.

The presentation was well received. The Commissioner of Education immediately stated, “Let’s make this happen” and gave assignments to all the attendees. With the assistance of the Commissioner of Education’s office, team members met with our targeted schools to introduce Mentor-Based STEAM Programs. The Pi-oneers spoke about creating a FIRST team, but discussed other options available including Science Olympiad.

In June of 2016, the Pi-oneers were given a grant from the New Jersey Department of Education to begin FIRST Tech Challenge teams in underserved districts in New Jersey. Receiving this grant was inspiring. The Pi-oneers traveled to the state capitol building in Trenton, New Jersey, to further our Advocacy campaign. Team members also returned to the National Advocacy Conference later that month in Washington, D.C., and spoke about our path to success and obtaining our grant. During the summer, the Pi-oneers began planning their own Advocacy Conference for the state of New Jersey. The Pi-oneers mission is to create Mentor Based STEAM Programs for underserved schools and to express the importance of STEAM education to all.

On October 22, 2017 the Pascack Pi-oneers hosted the FIRST Annual New Jersey Advocacy Conference. In the state of New Jersey, there are school districts who are unable to provide programs such as FIRST. The Pi-oneers are working toward making funding available, and more advocates and mentors are needed for these teams.

During our conference, we shared our goal of implementing Mentor Based STEAM Programs (MBSPs) in underserved areas of New Jersey. Teams met to discuss the effects of these programs and brought in several guest speakers including Assemblyman Robert Auth, and Bergen County Superintendent of Schools Norah Peck. At the conference, teams were informed about the impact FIRST has on high school students, given tips on how to make appropriate presentations, and reviewed the importance of mentorship. These points will help implement MBSPs in New Jersey and raise awareness about the importance of receiving the maximum amount of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) funding.