Toms River Regional School District and Township Green Team collaborate to open School of Environmental Sustainability

April 26, 2018

Poseidon Academy building renewed after experiencing Superstorm Sandy damage

Superstorm Sandy in 2012 had a huge impact on homeowners and businesses in Toms River– over 10,500 homes sustained some level of damage. Last month, the re-opening of a unique building was celebrated, a building that will contribute to the town’s continuing recovery and serve as a flexible workspace promoting environmental research and activism for students and the community for years to come.

Poseidon Academy is a small concrete building located at the foot of the Toms River. The aging marine science building was damaged after it was immersed in over two feet of water caused by Superstorm Sandy.

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Thanks to a creative collaboration between the Toms River Regional School District and the Toms River Township Green Team (Toms River United Sustainable Team), the building was transformed and rededicated as the School of Environmental Sustainability Poseidon Lab at a public ceremony on March 26, 2018. The remodeled space will support the new School of Environmental Sustainability (SES), part of a STEAM Career Academy which debuted in September 2017 at Toms River High School East. The upgrade of the Poseidon Lab will benefit students, local citizens and environmental organizations.

Toms River Regional Schools is the largest suburban school district, and the fourth largest school district, in New Jersey. Dr. Marc Natanagara began his career as a high school science teacher more than 30 years ago and is now assistant superintendent in the Toms River Regional School District. Dr. Natanagara engaged district staff, the Township of Toms River, Friends of Ortley Beach, the Barnegat Bay Consortium and other local organizations to work together on a project to rehab the building.

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Dr. Natanagara, who is a member of the township green team, said, “The collaborative process of developing this project has connected the school district with many community partners that are now excited and invested in the success of this effort. The refurbishing of a building has become a visible representation in downtown of our academic and community sustainability goals.”

Through a competitive process, the township received a $20,000 Sustainable Jersey grant funded by the PSEG Foundation. The grant money was used to remodel the building and turn it into a workspace for the community. Dr. Natanagara explained, “In the end, the project turned out so much better than was originally imagined. The staff and students got involved in the planning and the school district facilities staff went above and beyond with their renovations. Overall this experience helped clarify and build excitement about our overall sustainability goals. We were able to identify and share skills and resources within our community, some of which we did not know existed. We created new, and solidified existing, partnerships and bonds with our community.”

The STEAM Academy (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math)

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The renovated Poseidon Academy building is now a classroom for the Toms River High School East STEAM Career Academy (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math). Toms River Regional Schools opened its career academies (schools within schools) at its three high schools in September 2017. Each academy has a unique curriculum that exposes students to innovative teaching methods, diverse tools and materials, authentic experiences and new courses. The STEAM Academy includes Schools of Engineering, Biomedicine and Environmental Sustainability, with content in marine science, medicine, engineering, science research, genetics, advanced manufacturing and more. Students in this academy focus on problem solving and the design process.

The academies are competitive and students have to apply in eighth grade. Academic records and recommendations from teachers are considered. Enrollment for the STEAM Academy increased this year, most likely due to the enthusiasm generated by the new Poseidon Lab building. The STEAM students are the only students in the district who receive a “Humanities Block,” consisting of STEAM Honors English 1 and STEAM World Civilization, and a STEAM “Math/Science Block,” consisting of STEAM Honors Geometry and STEAM Biology. These students are also the only ones to have a Biology lab. The Biology lab allows students to conduct in-depth research and activities while focusing on college level skills, such as lab journaling.

Expanded courses and opportunities are led by teacher and Poseidon director Jon Hoffman. Students from across the district benefit from School of Environmental Sustainability student outreach as well as local experts recruited as mentors, sponsors, interviewers, speakers and guest teachers. Toms River Regional Schools Superintendent David Healy said, “This Sustainable Jersey grant process has been another perfect opportunity to connect the schools and towns we serve, and it addresses goals set by our Board of Education to expand career education, technology applications and sustainability efforts.”

Jersey Shore Makerfest

If you are interested in experiencing the good work of the Toms River Regional Schools and the green team first hand, then mark your calendar and plan to attend the Jersey Shore Makerfest on October 20, 2018. Dr. Natanagara is excited about this event. He said, “Makerfest is an experimental, experiential, educational and free annual community event. It’s a celebration of creativity and imagination that’s part MythBusters, part science lab, part county fair and part art studio. Over 250 makers and 10,000 attendees joined us in our first three years.” This event also includes the Toms River United Sustainability Team Green Fair in addition to the 70-100 maker booths, LearningSpaces for workshops, an EdTalk stage, a Roborena and a Jersey Shore Hackathon.

Sustainable Jersey Grants

Sustainable Jersey grants are intended to help local governments, schools and school districts make progress toward a sustainable future in general, and specifically toward Sustainable Jersey certification. Projects, like the Poseidon Lab, serve as practical models for the rest of the state while making measurable contributions toward the long-term goal of a sustainable New Jersey. Over $2.4 million in grants have been provided to towns for community-based projects to improve quality of life in New Jersey.

Photos courtesy of Michael Kenny, Toms River Regional Schools

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