Two new state-of-the-art science and technology classrooms, each with a $1 million price tag, will give Lodi high school students experience in medicine, engineering and construction technology.
The Lodi High School “STEM labs,” formally unveiled this month after a year’s delay caused by the pandemic, will also help the district retain students by remaining educationally competitive, officials said.
The biomedical and exercise sciences lab is appointed with life-size mannequins that exhibit actual medical symptoms, virtual reality goggles that simulate treatment and blood pressure monitors. There are also beeping vital signs monitors installed in a hospital-like setting complete with a curtained triage area. The engineering and construction lab is equipped with power tools, computer-controlled lathes, laser engravers and 3-D printers.
During the unveiling, high school senior Shaniya Richberg lifted the mannequin’s right arm and instructed visitors on how to take a pulse and hook a patient to an IV to collect a blood sample.
Yulianne Walker-Caban, a junior, used the mannequin to demonstrate how to intubate a patient.
The visitors drew a breath, then burst into laughter when the mannequin coughed loudly.
“I’ve never had anyone fussing to get out of here. It’s a lot of fun,” said one of the teachers.
Five students, three training to be emergency medical technicians and two from the pre-med club, gave a tour of the room and its facilities. A sixth student followed with a camera mounted on a pole, recording the events. The high school’s chickens — six egg-laying Delaware hens that students in the school’s agricultural sciences and pre-med clubs maintain year-round with help from their teachers — could be seen pecking in a grassy patch outside the lab’s window.
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The high school’s juniors and seniors take classes that include “Principles of Biomedical Science” and “Dynamics of Health Care Delivery” in the lab. The younger students get a taste of what it’s like to work in health care by joining the pre-med club, which meets in the lab. Sophomores can take a “survey” class as an introduction to the school’s pre-med academic track.
A few classrooms down the hall was the engineering and construction technology lab, a room filled with daylight from wide glass windows that overlook roofs and houses in the neighborhood and an open ceiling where HVAC pipes are painted in orange and blue, the school’s colors.
The pipes’ color-coding has an educational purpose too, to help students interested in construction technology understand their purpose in the building envelope. HVAC ducts are blue, sprinkler lines are orange and pneumatic air lines are yellow.
There, a team of juniors showed off their “rapid prototyping” skills using a 3D printer, and a robot that chased and then picked up an orange 3D-printed cube from the floor – a project that won them second place in a Northeast regional robotics “First Tech Challenge” competition.
It was a “show and tell” for teenagers interested in making things.
The engineering and construction lab’s professional-grade machines can be used to create vinyl posters for school signage and lettering and crests for the students’ navy-blue uniform T-shirts, products with real-world production standards.
The high school usually gets its posters for school events and merchandise for school pride from local vendors. Some of that work will now be done in-house, said school principal Frank D’Amico. The experience will give students a chance to see their creations put into use while generating savings for the school.
There will be fundraising opportunities for talented students to sell their designs in the future, said engineering teacher Errol Bareiss, whose object of pride was a beautiful engraved wooden clock built and finished in the lab using its biggest machine – a digital “mill” that uses a drill bit and vacuum table to create designs on wood while collecting the shavings in a giant bag.
The plan to design STEM-oriented labs grew from a need to train students for career paths in the most competitive fields.
“It was to stay relevant with the fields that students were interested in pursuing,” said D’Amico.
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The labs were conceived also as an efficient way to use the space. The school’s woodshop, which closed in the 1990s, was used to provide space for the increasing number of students who wanted careers in science and technology and were joining the school’s robotics and rocket clubs.
District officials are hoping the new labs, designed to offer a holistic high school experience, will help the school retain more of its students who would traditionally leave to attend the Bergen County Technical School, a magnet school in Teterboro, the Bergen Arts & Sciences Charter School, area private schools and the Bergen County Academies, a tuition-free public magnet high school in Hackensack that offers specialized career-focused programming, said Superintendent Douglas Petty.
Middle school students in the city were invited to visit the labs during the summer as a way to highlight resources available through the public high school.
D’Amico said he visited similar labs at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and a high school in Madison. Architecture firm ENV was hired to design, refurbish and build the labs, which were finished in 2018 and 2020.
The biomedical lab cost $1.03 million and the engineering/construction technology lab cost $1.15 million. The projects were funded from the district’s capital reserves, said Petty.
“A lot of things seem like magic. Like how do you get that clipboard, where does that come from? It’s just magic. It just appears in the store and you get it,” said Bareiss.
“We run through projects where they [the students] have to make them. They have to see – ‘Oh there are three screws here, why are there three screws here? Well, because I built it with two screws and it broke. So, now I know, why everything is built like it is, and how it comes together. And how, everything is connected,” Bareiss said.
Bareiss, who said his father is a metalsmith, loved robotics as a high school student and has worked with machines and different media for years. He wears a bowtie that he carved out of redwood. That bowtie caught D’Amico’s eye at a 2018 job fair when the school was searching for a teacher to run the lab. Soon after he offered the job to Bareiss.
During the 2020 school year, when the lab was complete but not open to students because of pandemic-related restrictions, Bareiss used the delay to learn how to operate the laser cutter, the resin printers, and even the newest iteration of 3D printers.
Students inevitably face “many points of failure” when working with the machines, said Bareiss, but that is the goal of hands-on learning and exploration. “Failure just narrows down what is right,” he said.
“You can shape a student’s career goal with their experiences too,” said science teacher Thao Hansen, by simply introducing students to new possibilities.
Mary Ann Koruth covers education for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news about New Jersey’s schools and how it affects your children, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.