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Pennsylvania Education Secretary Reviews School STEM Work

Pedro Rivera toured a STEM Lab at Northeast Middle School in Reading, as part of his effort to find out how the state’s emphasis on STEM teaching is progressing in Pennsylvania and what more needs to be done.

(TNS) — The classroom in Northeast Middle School in Reading once was a wood shop, where students hammered together wood projects with tools.

Now it's a different kind of shop, a STEM lab where children design devices out of cardboard, tape and rubber bands with critical thinking.

Examples were laid on tabletops Wednesday for Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera, who toured the school: Catapults crafted from plastic spoons, Popsicle sticks and rubber bands, able to toss pingpong balls at a bull's-eye; watercraft fashioned from a paper cup, 10 straws, 15 washers, a foot of duct tape, a foot of plastic wrap and a pair of scissors, vessels that can float in a basin for at least 15 seconds.

Next year, Rachelle Sheidy, a gifted program teacher at the school, hopes to introduce computer design in an unrenovated section of the room. Developing critical-thinking skills through design is a valuable lesson.

"It's how manufacturing works, and it's how real life works," said Sheidy.

For Rivera, the visit to Northeast is part of his ongoing attempt to see what's happening in classrooms and school districts "to inform our decision making" in Harrisburg. The critical-thinking exercises at Northeast, given to all 950 sixth- and seventh-graders, fits the desire by federal and state education officials to stress STEM education — science, technology, engineering and math.

"High-end manufacturing is one of the biggest job needs in the country," said Rivera. "It's exactly the type of thing we want to see in Pennsylvania."

In the school library, Rivera met with Dr. Khalid Mumin, superintendent of the Reading School District, four Northeast students, school teachers, administrators and community leaders, touting education proposals by the Wolf administration and asking for suggestions as to what more the state could do.

Wolf is seeking increases in basic education funding and raising the minimum salary for Pennsylvania teachers from $18,500 to $45,000. No district hires a teacher at an $18,500 salary nowadays, he said.

Rivera's visit should serve as an inspiration to Reading students, noted Dr. Yamil Sanchez Rivera, a senior vice president for community impact for the United Way of Berks County. Reading's student body is 80 percent Latino and 9 percent black; here were two leaders in education, one Latino — Pedro Rivera, and one black — Mumin. Pedro Rivera and Mumin grew up within blocks of each other in Philadelphia.

"You really are an inspiration and you're someone these young people can look up to because they see themselves in you," said Yamil Sanchez Rivera.

For student Bennyli Suero, 12, a sixth-grader who participated in the roundtable discussion, seeing the secretary and superintendent left an impression. She believes that "you shouldn't be afraid to stand out," and is considering a career in education, or art, or whatever moves her when she reaches high school.

"It shows me I can do what I want," said Suero.

©2019 the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.