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Metuchen students shine at STEM fair

By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

METUCHEN — An announcement that more than $172,000 was raised from the annual tricky tray fundraiser sponsored by the Home School Association at St. Francis Cathedral School was met with applause and cheers.

Last week, St. Francis School Principal Barbara Stevens said those funds go directly into the school budget, which helps the Catholic school purchase equipment that enables 21st-century learning.

“Our faculty has been emphasizing the 21st-century skills of critical thinking and problem solving for the past several years, particularly through the use of technology,” said Stevens. “These skills are essential for student success in higher education and in the workforce.”

The school held its first STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fair on May 25. Students from kindergarten to eighth grade displayed their projects that they had worked on since early April.

“Our STEM focus this year expanded the work that we started several years ago,” said Stevens. “STEM is an interdisciplinary and applied approach to learning, coupled with hands-on, problem-based learning. It is where the academic concepts introduced in the classroom are coupled with real world lessons, which allows students to learn more deeply.”

Stevens said their goal is also to spark interest in and prepare students for STEM-related fields in the workforce.

Kristin Stanicki, middle school science teacher, said students were broken up into teams with the sixth grade concentrating on the global water crisis, seventh grade on roller coasters and the eighth grade on prosthetics.

The students had to develop a prototype of a water filter, roller coaster or prosthetic hand.

Sophia Cascio said the use of everyday household items, including a pasta strainer and cheese cloth, could be used to make clean water.

“We tested it so many times until our final prototype,” she said.

Seventh graders Andrea Ruiz and Angie Pecora worked on creating roller coasters for their groups, which they said while it was fun, it involved a lot of trial-and-error testing and redesigning.

Ruiz and Pecora both learned quickly how the different masses of marbles that they tested affected the height and sturdiness of their roller coasters.

Julia Vanco, an eighth-grade student, said they had to create a prosthetic hand out of household items, such as cardboard and smoothie straws, that would have the ability to pick up a tennis ball, roll of tape, balloon, plastic cup, yo-yo and a Rubik’s Cube as well as be released and flex back up.

“I was amazed at how basic everyday materials can make something so spectacular that is needed by thousands,” she said.

Stevens said there is more to come next school year with Google classrooms and the purchase of new 3-D printers. She said this would not be possible without the continued efforts of the Home School Association and the support of Monsignor Robert Zamorski.

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