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Grad Students Forge Bonds Between STEM and Students with Disabilities

by Montclarion News
STEM little falls
STEM little falls

Little Falls School #2 is part of the iSTEM Program.
Photo Credit: Alex Gamboa

Montclair State University’s Dual Certification MAT program, with a focus on Inclusive STEM (iSTEM) education, is currently at the end of its fifth year since launching. Since it was introduced, the program has been tremendously helpful for teacher candidates who are well-rounded in STEM content and hope to spread their knowledge in their own inclusive classrooms somewhere down the line.

The innovative teacher education program offers graduate students with knowledge in STEM fields a unique opportunity to teach in middle and secondary school inclusive classrooms. It has been highly acclaimed by students, faculty and even employers.

Although all participating parties regard the iSTEM program as a high-quality teacher education program, it can be easily overlooked due to local competition from both traditional and alternative teacher education programs.

However, those who see the effect this program can have on students with disabilities immediately understand its value. The principal from Bloomfield Middle School (BMS) was impressed after seeing the program in action.

“Overall, there is a lot of celebrating achievement and sharing of positive results,” said Principal Alla Vayda-Manzo after BMS mentor teachers were invited to a lunch and presentation at Montclair State University. She claims that one student in particular “previously had significant discipline and attendance issues” until the iSTEM team gave him and his class a project. Once he got to work, “both his behavior and attendance showed vast improvements.”

Another aspect that makes the iSTEM program unique is that it provides hands-on experience to teacher candidates. This gives them the skills they need to jump right into work upon graduating. When asked what her most memorable moment was, Stephanie, a graduate of the program, said it was two things: “working for Dr. Goeke and working in Bloomfield Middle School.” She believes her time assisting teachers and becoming comfortable with their students at BMS gave her the confidence she needed to face the real world.

Dr. Jennifer Goeke, is the program coordinator. She said her mission is to create teacher candidates that are ready to “make an immediate impact on students’ lives because they know how to assess students’ needs and deliver high-quality inclusive teaching right from the start of their careers.”

One of the most notable facets of this program is the training of future teachers and their mentors in how to make classrooms more inclusive. Since 1975, public and private schools must provide every student equal educational opportunities by federal law, regardless of any disabilities. This law is known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

According to an article from The Condition of Education, “about 95 percent of school-age children and youth ages 6-21 who were served under IDEA in 2012-13 were enrolled in regular schools.” With that being said, it is important that future educators are trained to meet the needs of each and every student.

Since the program is still relatively new, Goeke and her colleagues are always working toward increasing enrollment for the upcoming academic years. With inclusive classrooms now becoming the norm in New Jersey, it’s comforting to know that Dr. Goeke and her team are keeping their teacher candidates on their feet and preparing them to take on modern classroom settings.

On top of that, they’re pushing to make sure every adolescent learner is getting the STEM education they deserve from the teachers and mentors they need. Goeke said, “Hopefully, as more candidates graduate and populate our schools, they will become agents of change in the lives of students with disabilities and move our schools forward toward a more inclusive, equitable vision for all learners.”

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