West Orange High School Receives “Innovations in Special Education Award” for Integrative iSTEM Program

Jodie Goldstein, Deb Coen, Dr. Larry Feinsod - Executive Director of New Jersey School Boards Association, Dr. Steven Morse, President, ASAH Credits: Cynthia Cumming

WEST ORANGE, NJ – The West Orange High School “Introduction to Integrative iSTEM Program,” was recognized by the New Jersey School Boards Association at its annual Innovations in Special Education Awards on May 16 in Princeton.

WOHS Special Needs educators Debra Coen and Jodie Goldstein were recognized for the creation of the successful program. Superintendent Jeff Rutzky, Board President Laura Lab, Principal Hayden Moore, and Special Services Supervisor Connie Salimbeno were also in attendance for the prestigious award ceremony. 

“There were 48 applications from around the state for this recognition, and we were one of 10 selected,” said Coen.

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The West Orange High School iSTEM program was adapted from the general education curriculum, with appropriate modifications to pace complexity and assessment as determined by the student’s needs and IEP goals and objectives.  The program was created in order to provide students with intellectual disabilities access to elective courses for transition planning.

“Due to their cognitive limitations, these students have limited exposure to general education and elective courses," explained Coen. "Our goal is for students enrolled in the adapted iSTEM class to gain a comprehensive understanding of technology and engineering in a least restrictive environment (to optimize student achievement) while exploring careers in a technology related field.”

The iSTEM program is innovative not only due to the variety of STEM projects the students complete but also how the content is modified to meet individual student needs.  It is a modified hands-on project based learning experience. 

The program was initiated during the 2014-2015 school year by Coen, a Technology and Engineering teacher, and Goldstein, the Transition Coordinator for West Orange Public Schools. Dawn Ribeiro, Supervisor of Special Education, and Ryan DelGuercio, Supervisor of Technology and Engineering supervise the program which is funded as part of the Technology and Engineering Department budget.  

Students enrolled in this program are high school age, grades 9-12, as well as participants from the 18-21 vocational training program. They are classified under Special Education and Related Services and receive academic instruction primarily within self-contained settings. Many receive related services including Speech and Occupational Therapy as well as instructional paraprofessionals for supports.

Within the iSTEM classroom setting, students are introduced to technology and engineering skills with a focus on critical thinking and problem solving. Specific topics include photography, electricity, roller coaster physics, and structural design. It is designed to enable students to work specifically on fine and gross motor skills, while exploring careers for transition planning.

“During the administration of the program we are continually evaluating student progress through teacher observation, hands-on and written assessments, and student feedback,” Coen said.

“The program has been very successful in demonstrating student growth in the development of social skills, cooperative learning, problem solving through the design process, and learning STEM principles.” 

In February, 2016, the program was featured in Classroom Close-Up titled “Adaptive iSTEM program.” The segment can be viewed at:

Salimbeno praised the work of the two women who brought the program to life. “Deb Coen and Jodie Goldstein worked diligently to establish this program," she said. "I cannot say enough about the dedication of Deb, Jodie and staff, along with the creativity and effort developing this innovative program.” 

In addition to Salimbeno, three WOHS students also attended the recognition and were "wonderful ambassadors for the program."


(In large group picture are: Dawn Riberio (Director of Special Services 7-12) Fabrice Gellen (student), Jodie Goldstein (Transition Coordinator), Mike Pierre-Richmond (student), Felicia Ndumele (student), Hayden Moore (Principal), Jeff Rutzky (Superintendent), Deb Coen (Technology and Engineering Teacher), Connie Salimbeno (Director of Special Services). Missing from photo: Laura Lab (BOE president). Photo by Cynthia Cumming.

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