SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – During the South Plainfield School District’s (SPSD) recent Summer Enrichment Program, seventh and eighth graders learned how science, technology, ELA, art and math (STEAM)skills enable an organization like Habitat for Humanity to fulfill its mission to build homes, communities, and hope.

Funded through Title 1, South Plainfield’s three-week Summer Enrichment Program is designed to provide further support in STEAM for first through eighth grade students who qualify. “The Summer Enrichment Program benefits the students in the long run as 21st Century learners by further developing their communication, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking skills,” said Teresa Luck, a district teacher and supervisor of the Title 1 program. 

This year’s program, which ran Monday through Thursday from July 8 to July 25, was initiated and planned by district supervisors Pam Garcia (ELA) and Anu Garrison (math) and held at South Plainfield High School. Prior to the start of the program, each grade was required to select a theme with teachers ScottMangieri, Anthony Encincas, and Kristen Brickman collaborating on a joint project through which seventh and eighth graders utilized ELA, math and art/graphic skills to design and advertise a home for Habitat for Humanity.

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Habitat for Humanity is a global nonprofit housing organization whose vision is ‘a world where everyone has a decent place to live.’ According to organization’s website, ‘Habitat works toward [its] vision by building strength, stability and self-reliance in partnership with families in need of decent and affordable housing. Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage.’

Through the SPSD’s Summer Enrichment Program, the ELA component focused on creating proposals or persuasive pieces to get possible buyers for Habitat for Humanity-built homes with Encincas teaching the students about persuasive arguments and how to write advertising copy. In math, the focus was on engineering, with students working with Mangieri to construct one- and two-bedroom homes with specific measurements. Using the software program Revit, Mangieri taught the students how to make a floor plan and have to create a 3D model of a home that adheres to Habitat for Humanity’s construction guidelines and codes. 

And, for the program’s STEAM component, students put their art and graphic skills to work to develop print advertisements for the proposals created in the ELA portion. Working with Brickman, the students learned the elements of graphic design in relation to layout, photo manipulation, hierarchy of information, etc. and applied Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator skills and techniques to develop their posters, which were displayed on the last day of the program. 

“The most exciting part of this program, from our perspective, was the chance to work collaboratively to pose a challenge for our students to meet that required the application of various interdisciplinary skills in order to accomplish,” said Encinas, adding, “These kids saw the interconnectedness that exists in the real world. They used language purposefully to explain the choices they made when promoting and developing their constructions. They thought about big problems that modern day families face when looking for housing and they came up with realistic solutions.”

Additionally, on July 16, the students had the opportunity to hear firsthand about Habitat for Humanity directly from representatives of the organization’s Plainfield branch. During their visit, Kamili Williams, president & CEO, along with Loretta Rivers, family services manager, discussed how the organization is run and how homes are built as well as provided the students with information on eligibility and funding. They answered students’ questions and spoke about different volunteer and fundraising efforts, including establishing a Habitat for Humanity Club at the high school. 

“The presentation benefited the students because they were able to receive valuable information as to how to create homes that were affordable, energy efficient, and sustainable,” said Luck. 

“It is wonderful to see our students explore learning in a project-based manner that focuses on real world applications of skill,” said Mary Malyska, the district’s assistant superintendent, noting that programs like this, and working with local organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, ‘provide a context for curriculum material that extends beyond the classroom.’

“We are lucky to have such a dedicated group of students to work with. They have demonstrated pride and enthusiasm throughout our time together,” added Encincas. 

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