With this in mind, the Hoboken Board of Education, the city, and Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken have partnered for a new program called "First Day of College" that gives 120 sixth grade students a sampling of the college experience.
"College can be a mysterious place for middle and high school students," said Stevens President Harold Raveche Wednesday. "That's why it's important to expose them to this environment early in their education and build on that experience, which might help relieve a little of their nervousness."
He added that if these middle school students gain a positive impression of what college is like now, then they will become more motivated to succeed in middle and high school.
About the program
For three days over the past two weeks, students from the Stevens' Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity showed the middle schoolers every aspect of their daily routine from what dorms look like to sitting in on engineering and science courses to what the cafeteria food tastes like.
"We discovered," said Stevens sophomore Christine Topacio, who is the service vice-president of Alpha Phi Omega, "that they really don't know a whole lot about what goes on at Stevens even though they might only live a couple of blocks away. Hopefully we're giving them something to look forward to."
"This program is one way to help answer the proverbial question, 'Why do I need to know this?' asked by students throughout the ages," said Beth McGrath, director of the Stevens Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education (CIESE), the department at Stevens that is overseeing the "First Day of School" program. "Once students see the connections between the concepts they are learning in mathematics and science courses and cutting-edge research that has a direct impact on our lives, their coursework becomes more relevant and they are more likely to persist in taking higher-level science and math courses throughout high school."
Officials for CIESE purposely selected hands-on demonstrations that brought science alive for the students. For example, for one activity called 'Float the Boat,' which was held at the Davidson Lab in one of the world largest wave tanks, the students were given a lesson on how ships are built and tested.
During another lesson, Joshua Koen, manager of professional development for the Stevens Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education (CIESE), led the students through an interactive Internet activity using real-time data to explore earthquakes and ocean navigation, as well as the related math and science concepts. In yet another demonstration, Stevens professor Dr. Ed Whittaker, who works in the field of optical science, showed the students how lasers work.
The 120 students who participated in the program are very special sixth graders. They are the Hoboken school district's first-ever group of sixth grade International Baccalaureate students.
The IB curriculum is as challenging and difficult as any curriculum in the country, and already has been used for many years for top achievers at Hoboken High School. The IB, founded in 1968, is a nonprofit educational foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland that grew out of international schools' efforts to establish a common curriculum and university-entry credentials. Now, these concepts for the first time in Hoboken are being introduced on the middle school level.
Next year the program will be offered in the seventh grade, and in the following year, in the eighth. At that time, the IB will be a contiguous program from sixth grade to graduation. Any students who make it through the intensive program and earn an IB diploma have a wide selection of colleges from which to choose. Joyce Baron, a consultant for CIESE at Stevens whose salary is split by Stevens and the Hoboken school district, is in charge of implementing the International Baccalaureate Program in Hoboken's middle schools.
"It's really amazing to have such a diversity of expertise involved, along with a group of Stevens students who are eager to enlighten these youngsters," said Baron. "All seem to understand very well who their audiences will be, and each has some great ideas about how best to engage 11- and 12-year-olds."
A fruitful partnership
The partnership between the Stevens Institute of Technology and the Hoboken Public Schools encourages and supports interaction among the educators in the mile-square city. With the support of Mayor David Roberts, Dr. Raveche, and Superintendent of Schools Patrick Gagliardi, a number of successful programs have been undertaken to bring technology-infused curricula into the schools.
"I'm very excited that we are taking advantage of Stevens and are using them as a partner to help educate our public school children," said Roberts Wednesday.
One example of where the Hoboken/ Stevens partnership has reaped results is the Hoboken Summer Institute. For the past three summers, Stevens has picked up the cost of a two-week long workshop in the summer where professors from the school teach Hoboken teachers how to best use technology and the Internet in the classroom.