SUMMIT, NJ - Over the past few years, several Summit Educational Foundation (SEF) grants, authored by Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School librarians Beth Thomas and Megan Hartley, have facilitated a transformation of the school's library from a quiet, studious place into an interactive, bustling hub of discovery.
Thomas and Hartley believe that "there is not enough productive failure in schools today," and set out to create a learning oasis where students could congregate, experiment with technology, and most importantly, not be afraid to "fail."
SEF grants directed to LCJSMS Learning Commons include:

Fall, 2013 - a $71,000 SEF grant that brought novel, Steelcase flexible furniture to the Learning Commons, allowing students to easily reconfigure their learning space by moving wheeled desks and chairs.

Fall, 2014 -  a $5,770 Fall 2014 SEF grant to begin populating the discovery zone, known as the iMake Makerspace, essentially a community center with tools. The funds were used to purchase a 3D printer, circuit-related technology (Little Bits, Makey Makey and Squishy Circuits), and microcomputers (Raspberry Pi and Arduino).

2015 - two more grants that resulted in the creation of the wildly successful CS First Coding Club and the purchase of 12 programmable Sphero robot units, which will debut in the Learning Commons shortly.

A typical day in the Learning Commons begins at 7:30 a.m., when the room quickly fills with students rearing to go on Thomas and Hartley's meticulously curated collection of Makerspace technology. It is not uncommon for 70-80 students to show up before school to create Eiffel Towers on the 3D printer or to wire circuit boards with gummy bears as they learn the basics of electronics. These hands-on activities continue throughout the day with class lessons and spill into afterschool hours with activities like the CS First Coding Club.
The Coding Club debuted in fall of 2015 with an eight-week introduction to Google's CS First program, which promotes early exposure to computer science education for students. Twenty-five LCJSMS students showed up regularly for Coding Club sessions and learned how to use Scratch, a computer language, to write programs for basic video games and other fun activities.

Word quickly got around about Coding Club and the second eight-week session recently started with 60 students. Thomas points out that the normal attrition rate for clubs is about 50 percent, but that has not been the case at all with Coding Club.

"Coding is an activity for students to have fun with, to fail and not have a grade attached. From an A+ student to a non-A+ student, all can find success in it." said Hartley, while Thomas added, "This is just a safe space. We take that really seriously."
SEF Casino Night Set for March 19

Tickets are selling fast for SEF Casino Night, which will be held March 19 at the Summit Elks.

The event features gaming tables and both live & silent auctions, with all funds raised supporting SEF's mission to maintain and enhance the high quality of a Summit public school education through community funding of innovative and essential educational programs, a close working relationship with the school district, and careful review, evaluation and financial oversight of supported initiatives.

Myriad items will be up for bid in the following categories:
- Artistic Creations
- Experiences / Excursions
- Food and Wine
- For the Home
- For the Kids
- Golf Outings
- Health and Fitness
- Hilltopper
- Jewelry and Fashion
- Life's Little Luxuries
- Parties
- Sports Experience
- Vacations

In the live auction, items include:
- Beer Bash at The Elks for 100 persons
- NBA Draft Dream Package
- VIP Hamptons Bash
- PGA Championship Wanamaker Club Tickets
- Bryant Park Hotel Suite and Broadway Tickets
- Outdoor Movie Party for the Grown Ups

Casino Night is SEF’s biggest fundraiser of the year with tickets, priced at $75 - $125, available by visiting For more information on SEF, visit
The Summit Elks Club is located at 40 Maple Street.