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Specialized Partnership Provides Mentorship and Motivation for Aspiring Engineers

Union Township Schools and Hunterdon County Vocational School District (HCVSD) successfully launched the first Junior Academy, a specialized partnership aimed at exposing students to hands-on learning experiences in science, technology, engineering, and math.

“Providing students the opportunity to engage in STEM experiences is crucial as it strengthens students’ critical thinking skills, increases science literacy and builds students as innovators and collaborative problem solvers,” said Kerry Foote, Instructional Coach at Union Township Schools. “Our hope is that as we expose our students to such experiences, we will ignite a passion within them to further a career in a STEM field.”

Throughout the school year, HCVSD freshmen in the Computer Science and Applied Engineering Academy (CSAEA) and Union Township fourth graders met in-person and via Google Classroom to collaborate virtually. Subsequently, the students formed groups and began discussing prominent issues in their community faced by local animal shelters, nursing homes, and even their peers. They worked collectively to identify one problem that they could solve with a unique new invention. Over the next few months, the fourth grade students worked diligently to design something to address their chosen problem. The CSAEA student mentors provided feedback, guiding questions and worked with the fourth grade students to bring their plan to life. After five months, each group had a working prototype. From an indestructible dog bed to a sensor that will alert the nursing station when a patient falls, the students watched their dreams come to fruition. In front of over 200 students and 50 community stakeholders and parents, the students presented the problem in which they aimed to solve, their journey as engineers and their completed solution.

“This partnership puts our academy students in a new role as mentors and allows them to work on developing important leadership skills that will serve them well both now and in the future,” said Jessica Cangelosi-Hade, director of curriculum and academies for HCVSD. Both school districts agree that one of the most important outcomes of the Junior Academy is the added exposure it gives young students to STEM education.

HCVSD operates two other full-time academies that focus on biomedical sciences and environmental sustainability and engineering. The three academies are among five distinct schools offered by Hunterdon County Vocational School District to serve high school and adult students. The largest is Hunterdon County Polytech Career and Technical School, the district’s shared-time high school that prepares students for a seamless transition to college and career paths. HCVSD also operates an Adult and Continuing Education school. Learn more at

Union Township Schools, located in Hunterdon County, is a public school district serving students in pre-kindergarten through 8th grade. Learn more at