- Union Township Schools
Union Township Schools Named Exemplary Program
Union Township Schools was recognized by the New Jersey School Boards Association as the 2019 School Leader Exemplary Program. This award recognized the school district for their elementary and middle school Innovation Labs, as well as their Junior Academy Program which launched in 2019.
“What an honor to be chosen among all of the school districts in New Jersey,” says Union Township Superintendent Nicholas Diaz. “Today education in the Garden State, ranked among the top in the nation, has so many creative and forward thinking programs being introduced. To be selected among such innovative and exceptional educational initiatives is a great tribute to our faculty and staff.”
Created as part of the district’s strategic plan, Union Township’s Innovation Labs are student-designed rooms, aimed to foster and develop creativity, collaboration, empathy, and critical thinking. Students and teachers utilize these labs in a variety of ways from the district’s current Genius Hour Initiative to Make Lab classes. The goal is to team up to solve real world problems, tackle posed challenges and grow as thinkers, problem solvers and creators.
Most recently, the entire eighth-grade class participated in a fashion show, displaying an outfit created out of recycled materials. They discussed not only the process they went through as a group, but also spoke to the significant behind the materials chosen. The class even met with a local fashion designer, who uses a similar method when creating clothing and who graciously participated in the judging of the fashion show.
The second program, the Junior Academy, a partnership between Union Township Elementary School and Hunterdon County Vocational School District, allowed elementary students to join and collaborate with freshmen in the vocational school on community-based problems. The students teamed up and designed durable, chew-proof dog beds, alarms for elderly nursing home residents, and a prototype for a portable home for the homeless.
Behind the scenes, before the students became involved, Technology teacher Brian Geniton reached out to local businesses, including nursing homes and animal shelters, to pinpoint some community issues. Once teams were formed, Geniton and Curriculum Coordinator, Kerry Foote met weekly with the groups to help them research, brainstorm, and design solutions. Throughout the year, the high school and elementary school students met to develop their prototypes, troubleshoot issues, and bring their visions to fruition. At the end of the school year, these teams presented to the entire elementary school, parents, board members, stakeholders, and the Hunterdon County Executive Superintendent Juan Torres.
“To see the students present their finished products to such a large audience was very gratifying,” says Geniton. “They not only learned empathy, problem solving, communication and research skills, but they honed their presentation skills. We were thrilled with the results from an educational perspective, plus the students loved the experience.”
The goal is to encourage even more participation from Union Township students in the Junior Academy. “The Union Township School District and Hunterdon County Vocational School will expand this program,” according to Foote, “offering a Junior Academy BioMedical Program for middle schoolers. Our hope is to team up with local agencies, such as the Rescue Squad, to work on creating solutions on various medical needs.”
Diaz is most impressed by the level of passion that both sets of students demonstrated toward their projects and the development of 21st century learning skills. “As a district, we are thrilled to involve the vocational students, developing their personal leadership skills, as well as our local businesses and agencies,” sums up Diaz. “This is a perfect example of educational collaboration on so many levels and we look forward to expanding these programs in the near future.”
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