STEAM Dream Activity Center

Members of Central & North Dover Administration thanked Senior Vice President Nina Anuario and Executive Director Katherine Durante from OceanFirst for their generous donation. 

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ED ribbon cutting
'Seeds of Inspiration'
June 2, the team at East Dover Elementary School officially unveiled its model classroom space made possible by a grant from OceanFirst Foundation. From left to right: Noreen Baris, Master Gardener of Ocean County/Rutgers; Joy Lewis, PTO president; Helen Koerner, teacher; JoAnn Nocera, supervisor of instruction; Matthew Gray, principal; Katherine Durante, executive director at OceanFirst Foundation; and Georgina Price, Master Gardener of Ocean County/Rutgers.

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'Seeds of Inspiration' and 'STEAM Dream Activity Lab' highlight the district's maker mindset

The Toms River Regional School District is pleased to announce the completion of model makerspaces at East Dover and North Dover elementary schools, each funded in large part by two $10,000 OceanFirst Foundation Model Classroom grants. The schools were among five winners in their category out of 86 applications.

Toms River-based OceanFirst Bank began its foundation in 1996 from a $13.4 million endowment. In that time hundreds of local charities and schools have received more than $30 million in grants to enrich lives. The Model Classroom program encourages schools to think both ahead and outside of the box.

“OceanFirst Foundation is proud to partner with local schools and to contribute the resources needed to develop creative solutions that help students and teachers succeed in the classroom and beyond the school walls,” said OceanFirst Foundation Executive Director Katherine Durante.

The district has been very successful earning grants and sponsorships in the past two years. It couldn’t have happened at a more crucial time; the budget was severely affected by decreased aid and lost ratables since Superstorm Sandy in 2012. They have found enthusiastic partners-- to the tune of over a million dollars-- as diverse as the Department of Education, Office Depot, the military, Hackensack Meridian Health, and the local Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation.

East Dover’s initiative repurposed an outdated library to create a multipurpose space through a projected dubbed “Seeds of Inspiration.” While retaining traditional library elements, the space has been completely reimagined and transformed into an open environment that features learning spaces, overhead electricity, indoor growing stations, a repurposed and Lego-inspired utility cart, and interactive displays. The space extends outdoors, to a greenhouse and several self-contained gardens that are maintained by students and teachers. Buoyed by the OceanFirst grant, Seeds of Inspiration has snowballed into an ongoing, sustainable project supported by the school’s PTO, its families, the district’s Facilities Department, and a host of community partners including Home Depot and volunteer Rutgers master gardeners.

“It was through the vision and support of our team and partners that this all came together,” said East Dover Principal Matthew Gray during a ribbon-cutting June 2. “Everyone who was involved stuck to it, and was genuinely excited to be a part of this.”

At North Dover, a committee of 16 teachers and PTO volunteers transformed an underused computer classroom into the school’s “STEAM Dream Activity Lab.” It features stations for science, technology, engineering, arts, and math, with many crossover elements. Available to every K-5 student throughout the school, the lab will operate under the guidance of teachers with the goal of promoting discovery, creativity, brainstorming, inquiry, analysis, and teamwork.

“We have a great deal support from so many valuable entities,” said North Dover Principal Colleen McGrath. “We are so excited our 'STEAM Dream' has come true thanks to the dedication and hard work of many amazing people.”

At grand openings for the model classrooms, OceanFirst reps were greatly impressed by what each school was able to accomplish with the Foundation’s support.

“The OceanFirst Model Classroom Grant program is very competitive and the selection of both the ‘STEAM Dream Activity Center’ at North Dover Elementary School and the ‘Seeds of Inspiration’ classroom at East Dover Elementary School speaks to the commitment of the teachers, professionals and students at each of these school to excel,” said Durante. “These Model Classrooms are outstanding examples of what can be achieved when a school community comes together with community-based partners to enhance the learning experience for students.”

Superintendent David Healy was on hand for the grand openings. “This award further recognizes the district as a focal point for innovation, future readiness, and the global maker movement”. The district has more makerspaces than any other and is a leader in events like Hour of Code and NJ Makers Day. Even preschoolers get in on the action, through physical coding and rolling robots.

More important than the space is what staff and students will do with it. Assistant Superintendent Marc Natanagara has helped create key STEAM initiatives in the last three years. “These spaces represent a shift towards a more cross-content and problem-based approach to learning that reflects real world challenges.” The Board of Education has invested over $5 million towards technology infrastructure and devices over the past five years, which is paying great dividends in student interest in STEAM, improvements on AP exams, and community involvement. “As great as our successes have been, we’re just scratching the surface of what we plan to do in our schools in the next few years,” says Board President Ben Giovine.

In September, the district will debut one new Career Academy at each of its three high schools: Arts, Business, and STEAM. Each Academy will further have three “majors,” including Schools of Digital Arts, Entrepreneurship, and Environmental Sustainability. These will likely grow as student interest and skills increase. Says Norma DeNoia, Director of Secondary Curriculum, “When students have grown up with makerspaces at the elementary level, the sky’s the limit to where they will be when they reach high school.”

For a photo gallery of the STEAM Dream Activity Center, click here.

For a photo gallery of Seeds of Inspiration, click here.

For a tour of district makerspaces, please contact Tiffany Lucey, Supervisor of Educational Technology,; (732) 818-8523.

For more information on district grant initiatives: Mike Kenny, Toms River Regional Schools Grant Writer,; (732) 505-5539.