WEST ORANGE, NJ — STEM-related careers are expected to grow at a rate almost twice the rate of non-STEM-related careers through 2018, according to a release from the West Orange School District. In response, the West Orange School District is launching new curriculum, clubs and activities to prepare students for 21st-century jobs.
Enter Stephanie Suriano, K-12 supervisor of science for the West Orange public schools, who is tasked not only in overseeing the implementation of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math-focused science curriculum, but ensuring the implementation of the all new, state-mandated Next Generation Science Standards, which will make their debut this September in grades six through 12, and in grades K through five in September 2017.
Suriano has worked in the West Orange School District for 11 years, first teaching high school chemistry and middle school science at Liberty until her appointment as the K-12 science supervisor in February 2014. She holds a double major in chemistry and English and a master’s degree in education leadership. In addition, she has served as a lead engineering teacher at NJIT’s Pre-College Summer Program for the past eight years. Prior to teaching in town, she was a science and math consultant at a foreign education evaluation service.
“Science is wonderfully optimistic,” Suriano said in the release. “Students are investigating the world around them, identifying and solving problems, engineering solutions, improving the environment, and helping people maximize their health and quality of life. Science is a very exciting field because it requires both reason and creativity and encompasses aspects of engineering and entrepreneurship.”
This year, Suriano will continue her work with science teachers to train and write new curricula to meet the rigor of the new skill-based standards. The 2015-2016 school year saw a districtwide “Day of Coding” and three new science courses at the high school: AP Physics II, Health and Wellness, and Medical Terminology. Science, math, environmental, coding and robotics clubs have formed in West Orange elementary, middle and high schools.
“The skill-based standards will include components like design experience, arguing from evidence, data analysis and finding patterns,” Suriano explained. “We need to look at science as something that will help to build skills that students can take with them into the world, and we will help them to make real-world connections.”
Using the water cycle as an example, Suriano went on to explain that elementary school students could learn about the water cycle and be able to apply that to the environment globally; middle students could study weather patterns worldwide; and high school students could learn about the energy of molecules, conducting science experiments along the way.
“We want the students to become more analytical and reflective, taking ownership of the scientific process,” she said. “There will be more inquiry-based learning.”
Suriano is a lifelong resident of West Orange and was the West Orange High School salutatorian in her graduating Class of 1992. Her father is the legendary coach and English teacher Joe Suriano, who retired in January 2016, and her sister, Nicole, is a special education teacher in West Orange. Stephanie Suriano lives with her wife, Meghan, and has 10-year-old twins, Avery and Dylan.
Stephanie Suriano is excited about the changes coming to the science program.
“The teachers and I are mindful that we are preparing many of our students for jobs that don’t yet exist,” she said. “Consequently, science courses must promote active learners who are not memorizing facts but engaged in practicing skills that are valuable in a global economy. It is a priority that science students at all levels make real-world connections and are exposed to a wide variety of career opportunities.”
To see the science presentation given by Suriano at the West Orange Board of Education meeting in February 2016, go here.