Sparta High School's STEM Academy

STEM Academy students begin Bio Medical Engineering course with a mystery Credits: Provided by Sparta High School

SPARTA, NJ – Sparta High School is offering a unique and challenging program of study for a selected group of students.  The STEM Academy began this September with 14 students in the BioMedical Engineering track.

STEM is the acromym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

The students had to apply in eighth grade for acceptance into this rigorous program.  They were evaluated based on academic grades, teacher recommendation and a placement test.

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According to Science Supervisor Marissa Wilson, the goals of the Academy are to

  • provide rich program of studies for the four years at Sparta High School,
  • provide a direct pathway for students to enroll in as many high level math and science courses as possible,
  • establish research opportunities and partnerships with universities or local businesses.

The curriculum, used nationwide, is called Project Lead the Way.  It uses an overarching forensic study to infuse the biological medical engineering concepts into the lessons.  Within the first week of school students entered their classroom that had been turned into a crime scene.  They will spend the rest of the year solving the mystery of the death of Anna Garcia. 

They first looked at Anna Garcia’s medical history, using that as a platform to investigate subjects such as disease and DNA.  They look at forensic concepts such as blood splatter to  gain an understanding of the biology behind it.

The schedule of classes for these 14 students does not look much different from those of their classmates’.  They will be studying all of their academic classes at the highest levels.  Even the humanity classes are honors level courses. 

“Practicing scientist report that 80 percent of what they do is reading and writing,” said Wilson.  “So the students have to be strong in English and Social Studies as well and Math and Science.”

The STEM Academy students rotate through their schedule with their other freshmen classmates.  They are in English, History, physical education and lunch with them.  It is the elective science and math classes where the Academy students come together. These students have Principals of Bio Medical Science, Honors Physical Science which combines the study of physics and chemistry and Honors Algebra II or Honors Geometry.   

In the subsequent years they will have Human Body Systems, Biomedical Innovations and Medical Intervention as their Academy electives.  The student will have the opportunity to take seven Advanced Placement courses by graduation.

“There are similar electives or we will be developing them so the STEM skills will be available to all students,” said Wilson.

The STEM Academy Bio Engineering teacher is Sarah Cayan.  She received training both through a self-paced course and workshops at Stevenson University over the summer.

Wilson said, “Sarah Cayan was excited with the training.  It was high tech and cutting edge.”  Adding, “There are colleges that recognize the Project Lead the Way courses.”

The costs associated with the Academy were for classroom supplies that are also being used for other courses. 

Next year the STEM Academy will add Engineering and Design as a course of study.  Lisa Tafuri will be teaching the courses and is currently developing the curriculum.  She previously taught at Union County Tech High School. 

“The program is being developed from curriculum we already have and from [Lisa’s] experience teaching at a tech school.  She’s pretty outstanding,” said Wilson.

Computer Programing will be added to the STEM Academy in 2017.  Wilson said they will be teaching four different computer programing courses; software engineering, computer programming and coding classes.

The school is currently seeking to partner with private individuals and universities to work with the students as they continue through the Academy.  Project Lead the Way does provide some contacts with Stevens, NJIT and others.  Wilson said they would welcome members of the community to join them in working with these talented students.

Students from outside of Sparta can apply to be admitted as tuition students to this and all programs of study at Sparta High School and other grades as available.  

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