Robeson School Construction Offered Students Hands-On Learning

Construction for the expansion of the Paul Robeson Community Theme School for the Arts began in November. Since then, one teacher has used the project in her engineering lessons. Credits: New Brunswick Public Schools/Twitter

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — It’s not every day that budding engineers get a chance like this.

Fifteen New Brunswick High School students recently embarked on an engineering project revolving around the architectural blueprints for the expansion of the Paul Robeson Community Theme School for the Arts, according to the city’s public school district.

“With engineering, one of the most difficult considerations is that whatever is being created must exist within a surrounding environment,” Patricia Chilelli, the teacher who conceived the lesson, said in a statement. “That’s true of bridges, highways and also science labs. Since almost all the students were familiar with the Robeson School project, this seemed a great way to teach about making things ‘fit.’”

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Since November, the Paul Robeson school has been undergoing $47 million in renovations. The project will yield a 60,000-square-foot, three-story addition that includes a multi-purpose room, 30 classrooms, four small instruction rooms and two basic-skills classrooms.

Chilelli saw the overhaul as a “unique” opportunity for her introduction to engineering class to learn about municipal construction, according to the district. The long-term project centered on the development of a design for a science lab that would fit into existing plans.

In-class guidelines required any lab design to support science activities for fourth- through eighth-grade students—the actual population served by the school—and comfortably fit 24 students, according to the district.

The class kept on top of actual work, thanks to a mounted digital camera. They also visited the construction site.

“They were working on a range of different concepts, and [walking] around within the actual space gave them a much clearer vision of what would and wouldn’t work,” Frank LaDolce, the district’s director of facilities, design and construction, said in a statement.

In the end, the class produced four concrete plans and matching 3D models. Each of the four teams met its goal, presenting their final products to the administration, according to the district.

“The most valuable educational experience is the overall process,” Chilelli said. “The success or failure of the engineering itself is decidedly secondary. But in this case, I’m proud to say the students did a fabulous job, and each of their four science lab designs were terrific.”

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