SPARTA, NJ — Students from Sparta Middle School and teacher from Alpine school gave presentations at the board of education May meeting. Students from Laura Sofen’s eighth grade English classes came to explain some of their 20Time projects. First grade teachers Amanda Lyons and Marissa Radjewski spoke to the board members and the community about the application of the Next Generation Science Standards in their classrooms. 

“Previously there were specific standards now lessons are student centered, allowing them to explore and have trial and error,” Lyons said. 

As a culmination of the unit on light and sound, the first grade teachers created a Light and Sound Museum experience for the students. Each class focused on displaying a single phenomenon. 

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The students toured between rooms to experience each phenomenon. They shared a few examples. In the study of light waves, they learned the terms opaque, translucent, transparent and reflective and created shadows using a model sun and flashlights. In the study of sound waves they looked at vibration by creating instruments, observing a tuning fork and objects vibrating on a speaker and learned about pitch by making instruments.

“They are actively learning by doing,” Radjewski said. “It is a great way to get a deeper understanding, using real life experiences to make the abstract come to life.”

Next to the podium, Sofen explained the initiative in her classroom was based on a concept from Google during which employees were encouraged to use 20 percent of their time developing pet projects. 

Two groups of students talked about the lessons they learned during the process of working through their 20Time projects. The process began with the students identifying a problem they wanted to solve and developing a solution. 

They had to present their proposals to their classmates for approval, which was not automatic. Them the students had to implement their plan.

Three boys Mason Maher, Nathan Miller and Andrew Daghlian took turns explaining their journey. They explained they did not get approved for their first proposal, “a disease filtration system for dirty water.” It was rejected for being too costly.

The next proposal was to teach people how to clean water. It was approved but the companies they contacted to work on it, did not respond. So they “searched for another problem to solve.”

The trio settled on creating a water bottle holder that clips onto a desk because water and computers do not mix well. With all the students using chromebooks this could be an issue.  They took the initiative one step further, donating the proceeds of the sale of the clips to the Wounded Warrior Project.

“So far we’ve made $61,” they said. Their goal is $100.

They took turns explaining the “life lessons” they learned. “Never give up,” and “Teamwork. We had some dark times but we stuck together and had success,” they said.

Next Jenna Eltorky, Olivia Romano and Hayley Ouimette discussed their initiative; the rules on shorts at Sparta Middle School.  Again, the students took turns explaining the initiative and the process.

“It all started in the cafeteria when [Principal] Mr. Gregory told us our shorts were too short according to dress code rules,” the girls said.

The rule on shorts, according to the girls, was that they had to be fingertip length. They decided after talking with their friends, they would try to get some of the dress code rules changed.

They agreed “not all the rules should be changed,” but fingertip length shorts “are not fashionable and are hard to find in the store.” The other rule they sought to change was the “no shoulder rule.” Bare shoulders, they were told, “are a distraction.”

The girls disagreed.

They started getting signatures on a petition and made an appointment with Gregory, though they were “rescheduled several times because of snow” and other issues.

After not achieving their initial goal for the number of signatures on the petition within the school, they broadened the reach of the petition.

The girls said they “learned to accomplish things we want done” and that often “you have to fail before you can succeed.”

They concluded by speaking directly to the board of education member, “We ask you to change the dress code to account for current trends and styles.”

“This is why I love my job,” Sofen said.