Beyond the Books: Building Bridges, Designing Robots - NBC Connecticut
Making The Grade

Making The Grade

Beyond the Books: Building Bridges, Designing Robots

John Wallace Middle School in Newington engages students with hands-on science and tech classes.



    John Wallace Middle School in Newington engages students with hands-on science and tech classes (Published Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014)

    Hands-on training for the real world is the mission in one Newington class room. But it’s not at a trade or technical college – it’s the John Wallace Middle School.

    The school offers STEM classes – science, technology, engineering and math – and all 700 students in grades 5 through 8 spend 22 days of instruction inside the walls of a learning lab, building bridges and designing robots, rather than traditional classes.

    Aleandra Calderone, a sixth grader, said the class is much more than words in a textbook.

    “In all other classes like math, language arts and social studies, you don't get to build with Legos and learn about mechanics and technology,” Calderone said. “You get to see what you're doing and it just helps you understand better than just reading something and then not knowing what to do or how to do it.”

    The same is true for Luigi Tarantello, a seventh grader. 

    “We can learn about this and it will lead us to another thing. Since it is hands on, it makes me learn it more,” Tarantello said. 

    Their teacher, Jennifer Reed, brought the program to the Newington school. 

     “They have time to work the process here, whereas in a regular curriculum, it's forced because there's so much to get through that you're really kind of forced to keep moving it along,” Reed said.
    Not many middle schools in the state offer this program Principal David Milardo said.

    “There are many students who come to life when they come to STEM class,” Milardo said.

    The program translates well into the district’s biomedical academy or aerospace engineering academy high schools. 

    “This is giving them a taste of what real engineering is all about,” Reed said. 

    The goal is to prepare children for an ever-changing economy, where having a marketable skillset is at an ever-increasing premium.

    “The job market that they'll be going into is so different than anything that any generation before them has gone into.  And this gives them a broader sense of what they can do,” Reed said.

    Reed said she makes sure her class doesn’t push away the less mechanically inclined. 

    “It allows everybody to try the science, technology, engineering and math. It's not just for those kids that are really good at math, or really good at science.  It's for everybody,” she said. “I have some kids in here that are artists, and artists are needed in engineering just as much. And, it gives those artists the chance to see how they might use their creativity.”

    For all students, STEM is a way to develop solutions for real-world problems. 

    “What you have is a controlled chaotic situation in that classroom, a lot of materials, a lot of parts, a lot of pieces.  But at the end of the 22-day cycle, what you see is a finished product that the kids are very proud of,” Milardo said.