All hands were on deck at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited the school’s Hawks Nest in the Lawrence sports complex on June 13, and announced a state grant to provide the yeshiva that includes a lower school a middle school and a high school with $150,000 to improve security.
An isolated incident last November at HAFTR High School coupled with the documented increases in anti-Semitic hate crimes, as reported by the Anti-Defamation League, were focal points of the governor’s remarks. On Nov. 8, HAFTR officials said that they had received a note stating that a bomb had been planted on the high school campus. While no explosives were ever discovered. “Anyone who threatens a school because of the school’s religious beliefs has no place in New York state,” Cuomo said.
Elected officials from every level of government also attended the governor’s visit.
Members of Teach NYS, a section of the Orthodox Union’s Teach Network, the organization that was successful in its advocating for an increase in state funding for both security and STEM education, were also on hand.
More than $2 million was allocated for improved security measures for 45 non-public schools across Long Island. The advocacy of Teach NYS pushed the amount of money allotted for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in non-public schools from $5 million in the 2017-2018 state budget, to $15 million in the 2018-2019 budget. How much of that money HAFTR will receive is unclear.
HAFTR Middle School has a dedicated STEM lab with a 3D printer and laser cutter. HAFTR’s director of STEM and Innovation, Benjamin Gross, said that they used the first round of state aid to hire teachers for the STEM-oriented curriculum, and said the school will continue on that path. Plans also call for opening another STEM lab in the high school at the start of the next school year. Gross added that students had worked on drone engineering, wearable technology and both virtual and augmented reality.
Some students held signs thanking the governor, and many seemed excited by the possibilities of improvements to the program. Seventh-grader Sameul Spiess, said he likes the class because, “I like building new thing,” he said. “We made robots and our final project was a rocket.” Spiess added that he’d like to see some of their computers in the STEM lab upgraded.
A group of sixth grade girls appeared enamored with the program when asked. “It’s so fun,” exclaimed one. “I love it,” yelled another. The girls all also praised Gittel Grant, the chair of the Science and STEM department.
The hope for this initative is that it will prepare non-public school students for the jobs of the future. According to Maury Litwach, the executive director of Teach NYS, there are 400,000 non-public school students, which would be roughly 16 percent of all students statewide. “Kids need the best math and science instruction,” he said. “Look at where the future jobs are heading. This is the technology they’ll be using.”