Realizing the dream of its general studies principal, Devirah Greenfield, Shalom Torah Academy in East Windsor dedicated its new science lab on Dec. 5.
The newly renovated space will be fully stocked with tables, a Smart Board, and microscopes and other equipment, as well as an oven, sinks, and a refrigerator. It comfortably seats classes of about 15 children.
The lab is part of an effort to teach proficiency in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — or “STEM” subjects.
Greenfield said the absence of a dedicated science facility represented a serious gap in a school where students learn all subjects through hands-on activities.
“The whole education here is inquiry-based,” Greenfield said. “Children are born with curiosity and we try to grow that curiosity.”
With the help of the New York-based Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education — whose mission is to upgrade STEM learning at Jewish day schools and yeshivot — and the donations of parents, Greenfield took what had been a storage room and a small art space, cleaned them up, tore down walls, and created the 15-by-25-foot lab.
Donations from current and former parents included cabinetry from Avner Shmuel, chemistry program materials from Dr. Craig and Paula Stroff, seating from Baruch Belsky, and hands-on labor from Alon Ifrah.
At the dedication, attended by 90 current and former students, parents, staff, and Jewish community leaders, Greenfield told of how CIJE director Judy Lebovits had walked through the building with her to help find a space for the lab and then assisted in its design.
CIJE contributed an $8,000 Smart Board as well as hands-on science modules for grades one to five. The organization also funded training in Israel for two teachers of E2K, a math and science afterschool program for middle school students. CIJE expects to help fund additional Smart Boards in conjunction with money raised by parents.
Laurie Dinerstein-Kurs, who taught science at Shalom Torah for 14 years, said her classes were held in a regular classroom with no refrigerator. She told the gathering she had to “beg, borrow, and steal” to acquire microscopes and petri dishes for her classes, and even went to the drugstore to buy chemicals to use in experiments.
Shelley Lightman, who has worked at the school for 25 years, was thrilled that Greenfield raised the necessary funds and garnered the support for the lab. “The kids need to have hands-on knowledge,” Lightman said.
Lisa Baron, who teaches fifth and seventh grades as well as E2K, said, “Students love the idea of learning from the knowledge of what they see and touch and experience. When they are done, we discuss concepts, and they want more.”
Eighth-grader Chavi Ertel shared the excitement of looking at fingerprints under the microscope: “seeing them up close, all the different designs, and comparing them.”
“The science lab is a really good way to do experiments and discover different things,” said seventh-grader Debbie Cremer, adding that she especially enjoyed making “DNA strands” by cutting different shapes out of paper and gluing them together.
For seventh-grader Marissa Warshowsky, the science lab enables her to do hands-on work and experiments she and the other students never could before. “I understand science better,” she said. “To do it makes it more clear to you.”
Dr. Richard Roberts, a medical doctor and a biophysicist and former president of URL Pharma, was invited to be keynote speaker at the gathering as a successful scientist and committed Jew.