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Stumping for STEM at Midreshet Shalhevet High school

Faculty and students push for more science money in North Woodmere


Stimulated by a required coding class in ninth grade, students at Midreshevet Shalhevet High School for Girls in North Woodmere have taken to the school’s science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, program, enthusiastically diving into a field typically populated mostly by their male peers.

Science teacher Aliza Feder — the adviser to the STEM Club, the Science Olympiad team and the MSH Scholars Program — is leading the way in two STEM classes and one robotics class, encouraging her students to create science projects they never dreamed of when they were younger.

“I think this is where the future is going, and people are getting very involved in robotics,” said Shani Roffe, who, along with fellow sophomore Jenna Shakarchi, built a pair of robotic hands.

Shakarchi, Roffe and several of their schoolmates displayed their STEM projects as State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, a Democrat from Elmont who represents North Woodmere, visited the private Jewish high school on Feb. 14, a month before many private-school representatives from across New York state will head to Albany on March 12 to stump for more money in the state budget for things like an increase in STEM programming.

“We would put the money to very good use, and would appreciate anything we would get from Albany,” MSH Principal Esther Eisenman told Solages during a roundtable discussion.

Annie Watman, grass-roots director of Teach NYS, was also at MSH. Teach NYS, a Manhattan-based advocacy group founded in 2013, lobbies for equitable government funding in nonpublic schools, working with community leaders, parents and lawmakers across the country to limit the cost of sending children to those schools. According to the organization, more than 60 day-schools and yeshivas receive state funding through its efforts, and in less than six years it has obtained an additional $450 million for the schools to upgrade security, enhance education and defray tuition costs.

Watman said that the group would ask legislators to more than quadruple the $20 million in STEM funding that Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed in his executive budget, to $91 million. “With more funds, the sky’s the limit for these girls,” Watman said. . . . We want [legislators] to see the value of the STEM program.”

Listening to the girls present their projects, it seemed clear that the required coding class — and support from Feder and Eisenman — has encouraged them to think of science as a subject for them.

Eisenman recalled that last summer, there were four students interested in paid robot-building internships at New York University, but there were only two slots available. She asked the students write essays on why they wanted to take part, thinking that might tip the scales in favor of two students. That didn’t work, she said. All four essays were deemed equally excellent.

Ultimately, two girls were chosen, and the other two said they still wanted to take part in the four-week-long, 8 a.m.-to-5 p.m. internship, even though they wouldn’t be paid. Junior Avigayil Roffe, seniors Chaya Roffe and Tamar Waronker and junior Esther Conway all attended. “It’s important we feed their hungry minds,” Solages said. The quartet built a mobile robot named Gator with Feder’s help.

Roffe said that when she walks through the automatic doors at a CVS these days, she thinks, “I can code that to happen.” Roffe and junior Tal Galon built a giant musical Hanukkah menorah, which also lights up, out of PVC piping, and are building a robot they are coding to avoid bumping into obstacles.

“It’s amazing and a lot of fun,” Shakarchi said of the STEM class. “I love it and really enjoy it.”

To learn more about the Teach NYS mission to Albany, go to https://teachcoalition.org/nys/albanymission/.