ESUMS Ground Broken

Svigals + Partners For the last six years Juwan Rollins and Khadesia Walker have gone to a school without a permanent home. Now they’re helping to build one of their own.

These seniors at New Haven’s peripatetic Engineering Science University Magnet School (ESUMS)—now housed in temporary space on Leeder Hill Road in Hamden—were among a hundred students, staffers, and officials who participated Tuesday afternoon in the long-anticipated groundbreaking for the school’s permanent building.

Allan Appel Photo The five-story cantilevered structure with state-of-the-art labs, computers, and 3-D printers galore, on the campus of the University of New Haven, is the 38th project in the city’s $1.7 billion school construction program.

It’s slated to open in September 2016 at a cost of $85 million, 95 percent of which will be reimbursed by the state, according to state Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor, who was among the bevy of speakers preceding the ceremonial shoveling.

Click here for a story on the odyssey of the school and its multiple locations; here for a story on the long road to finding suitable site in West Haven; and here for a story on how the sticker shock of the school’s cost was addressed, and local share reduced.

The 6-12th grade school currently has 570 students. That number is to grow to a 616 in the new location. The college-prep interdistrict magnet school enrolls 65 percent of its kids from New Haven, 20 percent from West Haven—where the adjacent University of New Haven will provide classes, teachers, and mentors—and 15 percent from surrounding Connecticut towns

Because they’re science and technology students, Juwan, Khadesia and some 40 other students have been visiting the building’s architects, Svigals + Partners, where they participate in the firm’s “Kids Build” program.

They helped design some of what architect Barry Sivgals called the “metaphoric strata,” layers of brick work near the building’s foundation that will feature images of inventors and scientists from our area, such as Eli Whitney and A.C. Gilbert, the latter of Erector Set fame.

When another group of students came to the office, they worked on cantilevering problems like those the architects had to solve for the new building.

“We’ll have them [the students] back to walk the site with our civil engineer and the landscape designer,” added the firm’s Julia McFadden, the lead architect for the project.

Seniors like Juwan, who hopes to study engineering at Cornell, Khadesia, who hopes to do the same at University of Miami, and Odia Kane, who just last week had her interview at Yale, will of course not be the first class actually to use the new building.

That honor goes to current tenth-graders such Nora Heaphy and Dana Joseph (pictured with their engineering lab teacher, Errol Lee). Dana said she is looking forward to the new labs to enable her to carry her senior of “capstone” project through from conception to design to testing.

Since she wants to be a doctor, her project will involve constructing a biomedical device, perhaps related to prosthetics, she said.

Nora said she’s looking forward simply to having a library so she can have a place to read both scientific journals and fiction.

“I [sometimes] bring my own tools to class to do a project,” said long-time ESUMS science teacher Roger Rushworth. He also said the current facilities on Leeder Hill Road are frequently not good for ventilation, so projects are done outside. That has not stopped the kids from scoring well on tests and winning laurels in city and state wide science compositions.

“This new building is going to allow us to do so much more. We’re psyched,” hesaid.

In addition to the spiffy new model-making wood shops with rotors and drill presses and the 3-D printers, the structure itself will be a “building that teaches,” according to press materials. That is, the building will provide opportunities to see science and engineering concepts applied, including exposed structures, visible rainwater drainage paths, and an onsite wetlands study area.

According to the arrangement, all ESUMS students will be able to take advanced courses at UNH and receive credit, without fee.

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posted by: RichTherrn on September 16, 2014  3:24pm

Many of the speakers today, including the CSDE Commissioner, the mayor, the superintendent, the UNH President, also spoke of the importance of this school and the idea that STEM skills are the key to the future for our students, Kudos to the ESUMS staff, the parents and the communities for sticking with it over the last 8 years and working with the students to give the great education they’ve had without a permanent home. I’m proud of all of them!
-Richard Therrien
NHPS Science Supervisor

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on September 17, 2014  3:47pm

With all due respect to Mr. Therrien and his position as the NHPS Science Supervisor, I strongly disagree with his statement that “STEM skills are the KEY (emphasis mine) to the future for our students.”

While STEM skills certainly can play an important role in the education of students in the 21st century, we cannot replace the more fundamental skills of critical thinking, active reading, and quality writing that undergirds all quality education.

We must be caution not to focus so much attention on equipping secondary school students with job skills, that we end up reducing their education down to little more than job training programs.

Secondary schools students should be afforded a solid foundation in subjects outside of STEM subjects as the “key” to their futures, ensuring that they are as flexible as possible academically going forth into post-secondary educational institutions, potential employment, and life.

The Rev. Mr. Samuel T Ross-Lee

posted by: RichTherrn on September 17, 2014  4:19pm

Rev. Ross-Lee: I doubt we disagree to any significant amount.

Literacy skills, such as active reading and quality writing, are a strong component that are the key to schooling and college and career readiness. Many employers and colleges refer to those as a base-line expectation. My comment is about our realization that literacy skills and basic numeracy are NOT enough, students also need STEM skills.

Most include strong critical thinking as a key STEM skill, as well as lab skills, problem solving, data analysis, etc.. in order to be prepared for their future world. All reports point to that up to 75% of future careers (not just jobs) require a strong background in those skills as well as literacy in order to ensure that flexibility you speak of, and this school is an example of that focus and realization.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on September 17, 2014  5:49pm

““students also need STEM skills. All reports point to that up to 75% of future careers (not just jobs) require a strong background in those skills…”

This, sir, is where we fundamentally disagree.  While I’m sure it is well-meaning, it should be noted that it just might be wrong-headed to base secondary education on the needs of the market instead of the needs of the students and the larger society.  The aims of the public should be to educate our young to take on the responsibilities of our republic, not the machinations of madison avenue.

Whether we’re talking the subtle distinction between jobs or careers, we should note that a market driven focus on secondary education might just not be what is good for the society as a whole.  We might be able to take young and impressionable minds and steer them towards jobs and/or careers, but that does not mean that we should.  STEMS skills can be an option, but I would disagree that they are “need(ed)”.

I would firmly stand by the notion that students, at least through the first college degree, should go to school not to get a job/career, but to get an education.

posted by: duncanidaho645 on September 17, 2014  7:21pm

STEM skills are necessary.  A well rounded education including all of the ideas mentioned is KEY to keeping options open for students as they mature and decide on what they want to do to make a living and support their family.  Not that a scientist or engineer cannot read well.  Or a reverend absolutely must not be able to perform multi-variable calculus.  One should be able to do all these things and then make a decision on what they will do to put food on the table while continuing to maintain a certain proficiency in all disciplines.

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on September 17, 2014  7:24pm

Don’t worry.  ESUMS kids are getting a strong education in non-STEM subjects as well. 

This article does contain one inaccurate statement:

“According to the arrangement, all ESUMS students will be able to take advanced courses at UNH and receive credit, without fee.”

Only students who qualify academically are taking those classes (currently about 30), and UNH does charge their families $250 “facility” fees.  Perhaps when the school moves to its new building, the UNH course offerings will expand and the program will be offered to more students.

posted by: Yair on September 17, 2014  10:37pm

There is a false choice here between “critical thinking, reading…” etc which are presented as intellectual components of quality education, and “STEM skills” as some kind of vocational training to guarantee future employment. Nothing could be further from the truth: Science and mathematics are deeply important intellectual aspects of education, inseparable from the notion of critical thinking, and indispensible to the education of a fully engaged citizen.
If ESUMS focusses only on the employability aspects of science and math, then something is missing, but in general STEM is a key part of our intellectual heritage and we should strive to educate every student in this way.

posted by: Noteworthy on September 18, 2014  4:54am

STEM and literacy are important. An $85 million school for just 660 kids is not. Better add critical thinking and common sense to the curriculum and enroll those at Meadow Street.

posted by: RichTherrn on September 18, 2014  1:48pm

I leave the same comment I just left on the Celentano article:
The whole goal of getting kids more experience in STEM fields early is to help them rise as well as our society. Even though our society has changed so that most future careers require more STEM skills, and those careers will provide quality of life, “training workers” is not the sole purpose. In fact, research shows that the number one reason students are interested in STEM fields, such as health, bioscience, engineering, etc.. is to help others and make a difference, not to make money. The kids I talk to discuss finding new cures, solving problems of pollution, energy resources, city infrastructure, hunger, climate change, not just in New Haven, but for the whole world. STEM AND arts and humanities AND literacy skills in conjunction with an understanding of social impact are what will help our future citizens.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on September 20, 2014  7:44pm

Learning skills that help individual citizens (or groups of them with individual problems) is laudable, indeed.

But learning skills that help students to look at and analyze society as a whole, to be able to see our collective issues with critical insight and engagement, to grasp the core of our common humanity as a world community is quite another thing.

We are not born human; we are made.  We are born mammals, and just as animalistic as the next ones. But through education, culture, socialization, and the love shown us by other humans, we become more and more human ourselves.  Just as it is possible to train other mammals skills and tricks to preform at the whims of their owners, and those providing them with food and shelter, it is possible to train us to possess skills that keep us preforming, but not thinking at deep levels about why we are preforming and for whom, thereby making us vulnerable to the trainers and owners who pull our chains towards the jobs for which we’ve been trained.  This kind of “education” does not make for a progressive society, a more humane world, or more loving and caring people. Though it does make us more functional, more like functional fools.

We MUST provide an education for our students at the secondary school level that exposes them to and then developes in them the uniquely human aspects of life and living.  And that is the part that helps them think, not merely about how to preform, but why they are preforming and for whom.

This is what the liberal arts parts of education is about, and why it is often called The Humanities.  STEM classes and courses of study tend not to focus on these subjects and skills.  So, secondary schools (and even college programs) that have a STEM focus should also maintain a strong interest in character building courses from an academic point of view.

P.S. I wonder what happened to the EMail Notifications of responses to one’s post here?