This past summer, Golda Och Academy was one of a select group of Jewish day schools to receive a planning grant which led to the application and acceptance of a three-year, $500,000 STEM Innovation grant from The Gottesman Fund in NYC. The grant will help fulfill Educational Innovation, one of the pillars in the school’s five-year Strategic Plan, expanding and enhancing student-centered and inquiry-oriented innovation teaching, learning and curricula across Pre-K through 12 grades. “We are extremely grateful to The Gottesman Fund for their incredible partnership on this project,” said Stephanie Bash-Soudry, Director of Institutional Advancement, “and appreciate the tremendous faith they have in us as a leading Jewish day school at the forefront of STEM education.”
To implement this strategy, Golda Och Academy has developed a multi-faceted plan, called Project Moonshot. The plan draws many of its components from the school’s successful STEM program with four core elements: giving students 21st century skills, creating a culture of innovation, building collaboration and focusing on tikkun olam (repair of the world). Leading this effort are Upper School Science Department Chair Paul-Michael Huseman and Director of STEM Education Dr. Shira Kelmanovich, who have been appointed Innovation Leaders for Project Moonshot. “Through the STEM program model, students are able to address problems in society that interest them and then use the engineering design process to create innovative solutions,” said Dr. Kelmanovich. “The experience of working collaboratively to problem solve gives them confidence to face the unknown and embrace failure as a learning opportunity. This model has been tremendously successful with our STEM students, and we look forward to expanding it to additional areas of our school.”
Kelmanovich, who came to GOA after receiving her PhD in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University, started the school’s successful four-year STEM program with generous funding from community philanthropist and school grandparent Dr Lynne B Harrison. This exciting STEM program includes engineering, computer programming, electronics, 3D design and fabrication, and original capstone projects. In 2018, the first STEM class graduated Golda Och Academy and went on to matriculate at colleges like Dartmouth and Penn Engineering in addition to securing internships this summer at organizations such as Google and NASA.
As Innovation Leaders, Huseman and Kelmanovich will help other departments incorporate project-based and student-centered learning into other disciplines. For example, the 5th and 6th grade math and science teachers have been working together to form new synergies, ensuring a seamless transition from the Lower School (Grades Pre-K - 5) to the Middle School (Grades 6-8). Huseman and Kelmanovich will also oversee a “GO For It” fund, allowing teachers to apply for resources to carry out innovative ideas and best practices to enhance student learning. “Our mission in Project Moonshot is to put the resources in the hands of teachers across both campuses and expose all of our students to high-quality STEM education and this model of collaborative learning,” said Mr. Huseman. “We have already seen a flurry of interest by Golda Och Academy teachers in the “GO For It” fund.”
Huseman, who is currently starting his third year at Golda Och Academy as the Science Department Chair, is a National Board Certified physics teacher and the recipient of a Master Teacher Fellowship from Math for America. Prior to Golda Och Academy, Huseman taught in NYC public schools for nine years and led citywide and national workshops on performance-based assessment, standards-based grading, invention in the classroom, and data-driven instruction. He earned his B.A. in Physics and Mathematics from Drew University and M.S. in Adolescent Education from Pace University.
In addition to the Innovations team and “GO For It” fund for faculty, Golda Och Academy plans to expand STEM staffing and offerings, and reallocate time for teachers schoolwide to collaborate, innovate and focus on professional development. Thanks to the Gottesman Fund, Golda Och Academy has received support and expertise from Joel Einleger, Senior Program Officer at the Avi Chai Foundation, and Talia Milgrom-Elcott, Co-Founder and Executive Director of 100Kin10. Ms. Milgrom-Elcott’s organization, 100Kin10, is aimed at putting 100,000 STEM teachers in classrooms nationwide by 2021 and giving support to STEM educators to educate the next generation of innovators.
“I have no doubt that Project Moonshot has been, and will continue to be, a transformational project for our school,” said Head of School Adam Shapiro. “It will enable us to expand our innovative STEM program and help us to spread this way of learning to all students and all teachers across disciplines and grades.”