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Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education holds robotics competition at HAFTR


The Manhattan-based Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education has championed the cause of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in Jewish day schools more. Established more than 10 years ago, the nonprofit organization has pushed a STEM curriculum to more than 100 Jewish day schools across the country.

This year the group expanded its robotics league to middle school. CIJE hosted its competition at HAFTR on Dec. 19. More than  20 schools took part. There were over 50 Vex robots created by the students.

“This event is more than a competition, “ said Jason Cury, president of CIJE. “This is how we create the next great leaders in STEM. “This how we continue to adopt and, as Jews, inspire others with our success. This is the future of education.” 

Students began building their robotic frames by following instructions, then re-engineered their design for optimal use in the competition. The challenge paved the way for creative approaches to problem solving, as well as the opportunity to hone essential skills such as collaboration, strategic thinking, troubleshooting, agility and the ability to change on the fly.

Students gained first-hand exposure to robotics, which incorporates electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and computer science. “We carefully construct our robots to hit specific educational criteria and standards, but more so this is about the students testing their self-confidence and their determination to succeed,” said Judy Lebovits, vice president/director of CIJE.  

Jewish Educational Center and Yeshiva of Central Queens captured the top honors. Both schools boast a highly competitive STEM program. JEC recently built a new STEM Lab and has quickly become a leader in STEM education in New Jersey. “It is so fulfilling to watch this win today,” said Rabbi Ami Neuman, principal of JEC. “Our incredible STEM program and our newly built lab have transformed the way we view education. To watch students design, create at school and then succeed at events like this makes you realize they are building themselves a very bright future in this field.”

HAFTR swept the middle school competition by placing first, second and third, led by Gittel Grant, the school’s director of STEM and Science Innovation. “We are so grateful to CIJE for providing this opportunity for students to engage in a competition that promotes creativity, collaboration and innovation,” said HAFTR Middle School Principal Joshua Gold. “Today was a testament to the high-level work students are doing in their science classes, and how well positioned they are to be successful in the evolving job markets of the future.” 

With establishing a strong STEM program, HAFTR aims to build a strong foundation beginning at the nursery school level that progresses through the high school years. “Our biggest problem we have here at HAFTR is that every year we need to revamp our program to be better, but this is a good problem to have, ” said Executive Director Ari Solomon.

HAFTR High School recently opened two new state-of-the-art labs for STEM focusing on biology and chemistry. The high school, which also took part in the robotics competition, has added new STEM courses this school year that include two Advanced Placement computer science classes, entrepreneurship and design and fabrication, which uses all the high-end tools at the new maker space.