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Funding STEM and Reduce Achievement Gaps in New Jersey Schools – How the Delran STEM Ecosystem Alliance is leveraging district funding to make change



Within a five year period, the Delran school district has seen a 300% increase in English language learning students. 

Co-leads of the Delran STEM Ecosystem Alliance (DSEA), Erica DeMichele and Mary Jo Hutchinson, have focused much of the work to reach marginalized students, including English language learners. They have done this by leveraging district money through Title I, Title III and Title IV funding.

Mary Jo Hutchinson (center holding teal shirt) is the K-12 Supervisor of Math, Business, Robotics Coordinator and STEM Initiatives Coordinator; Co-Lead for the Delran STEM Ecosystem Alliance with Erica DeMichele (left of center holding grey bag) is the K-12 Supervisor of Science, Technology, Engineering, STEM Initiatives Coordinator and Sustainability Coordinator; Co-Lead for the Delran STEM Ecosystem Alliance

“You need to understand the goals of the Boards of Education and the ecosystem is a perfect way to leverage what the Board deems important. Once the ecosystems taps into the goals and mission statement of the Board and school district you can make a case for spending funds positioned to support student needs, like our English language learners,” says DeMichele. “If ecosystems learn a little more about what is going on in the community, they can tie all the work together and show Boards not only how their goals will be supported through a refined allocation of funding, but also better increase student achievement overall and a greater connection to the community at large.”  

“We hosted an ESL (English as a second language) family engagement night this past year, complete with translated materials and translators on site the night of the event,” says Hutchinson. “We paid teachers to get involved that evening and mobilize student leaders for the evening as well. We were able to do this by leveraging Title III funding and making a strong case to the Board and Superintendent.” 

Addressing gaps in STEM 

The Delran STEM Ecosystem Alliance starts early to build literacy in coding, interest in environmental sustainability and robotics at the K-5 level to reduce disparities for students in STEM as they move into middle school.

“By middle school, our girls get the message that STEM isn’t for them. We are working really hard to ensure that is no longer the case for young women in our ecosystem,” says DeMichele. “Parents and families are the main ingredients to support our students. We start this early in K-5 so students have strong STEM identities moving in middle and high school.” 

Tools like Imagination Playground, pictured here, allows students to use physical activity and mental modeling to build the basis for coding skills. Students in Kindergarten through 2nd grade participate in the Hour of Code week, and continue building skills like these throughout the year.
The Sustainable Jersey for Schools Program has driven much of the Energy Savings Improvement student presentations, including these Green Team members presenting to the Board of Education and community. These students also competed in the Philadelphia Zoo’s UNLESS Contest, and won prize money to directly impact their chosen conservation project.

Sustainable family engagement

Delran leadership knows that family engagement must be sustainable and woven into all of the work of the ecosystem. Family STEM Nights are hosted regularly throughout the school year in collaboration with ecosystem partners such as local businesses, nonprofit organizations, police and fire academies, and the nearby community college. 

Delran High School students frequently engage primary school students in events like this Earth Day celebration. Student STEM Ambassadors apply to become a part of the Delran STEM Ecosystem Alliance partnership, becoming trainers of students and community members for STEM related events in the district and community.

“As a school district, leading the ecosystem, we are uniquely poised to reach families and students and we know that. We are working to expand our influence beyond just a ‘cute’ one time event, as well as expanding our reach beyond the school day,” says Hutchinson. 


English Language Learners are engaged in STEM activities with their families, with the help of Title III funded translators to assist in their learning. The youngsters also become proficient in English and aid their families in understanding the connections to learning at STEM Family Engagement Nights like the one pictured here.

The ecosystem has developed a strong growth mindset training for families to give them confidence to work through problems with their students, instead of giving them the answer or feeling afraid they don’t have the answer. DSEA has also integrated learning across disciplines, using stories like Rosie Revere to teach engineering and LEGO challenges to increase critical thinking and problem solving skills. 

“We teach supportive ways families can interact with their children to promote growth mindset with the hope that these ways of interaction carry over into homework help,” says Hutchinson. “In addition to those skills, we are working on activities families can take home and do together.  For example, we support families to use the Bedtime Math app and have received very positive feedback on it.” 

Community and family input to build new learning spaces

Delran is transforming an old storage space on the high school campus into a Digital Innovation and Fabrication Laboratory. In the process of designing the Innovation Lab, Delran conducted a series of community learning and design meetings to ensure families and the greater community had input in the creation of the lab. 

STEM Lab Ambassadors are helping in the Design Studio process for digital fabrication, as TIES, students, teachers, administrators, higher education, business/industry and community partners develop the cradle to career mindset to meet the needs of our work force in Burlington County, New Jersey.

“To keep family and community engagement year round, we will continue to work with partners to host seasonally based events in the Innovation Lab,” says DeMichele. “We got community buy-in, expertise and input from the very beginning, which has contributed a lot to our success. This has enabled us to build strong partnerships with Rowan College at Burlington County (RCBC) to drafts grants that will support learning across the K-12 and post-secondary spectrum in the lab.” 

By highlighting the power of creativity, Delran will partner with Fablevision and Barnes and Noble to promote the opening of the lab in September. In December, Delran will leverage Next Generation Science Standards and a partnership with Schneider Electric to look at the phenomenon of winter solstice and tie it to sustainable careers. 

Tell your story 

Delran has developed a strong relationship with local press that co-leads credit to much of their success. 

“Don’t be afraid to tell your story,” says DeMichele. “Invite the newspapers, assembly people, commissioners of education and labor, state senators, and general community in to celebrate your work.” 

“And make it happen, no matter the circumstances,” adds Hutchinson. “On the last day of school we received word a day before that the first lady of our state wanted to visit our school to see the Green Team in action. It wasn’t the best timing, but we figured it out and had a very successful visit that was picked up by several media outlets.”

On the last day of school in 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s wife, Tammy Murphy, toured Delran’s Sustainability programs to see how #GoGREENNJ was already taking place in K-12 schools. Her visit brought out The College of New Jersey, two media outlets and the Mayor of Delran.

Delran STEM Ecosystem Alliance

Delran STEM Ecosystem Alliance is comprised of industry leaders, community organizations, higher education institutions, teachers, parents and pre-school partners. Stakeholders include Lockheed Martin, Radwell International, Princetel, Barnes & Noble- Moorestown, PSE&G, Schneider Electric, the Delran Parent Teacher Organization, Perkins Center for the Arts,  and Rowan College at Burlington County, and others.

DSEA Partners like Lockheed Martin and Radwell International promote STEM career opportunities at the Delran STEM Fair each spring.

The Alliance serves 3,000 students in Delran, Burlington County by preparing them to achieve proficiency in STEM fields. We focus on the underlying principles 0f pointing girls and historically underrepresented students toward role models in STEM; seeking out and successfully engaging young people to participate in high-quality, diverse and interconnected STEM learning experiences; and underscoring that STEM careers lead to meaningful careers.



To learn more about the Delran Ecosystem Alliance, read more here. 

Read more about Delran STEM Ecosystem Alliance in the Press: 

For shared Delran STEM Ecosystem Alliance resources:

Family Engagement Resources

      • Activities for after the event:
Students at STEAM Camp share their learning by presenting to their families.

Sustainable Jersey for Schools 

  • Programs that show success in Delran Schools- Spotlight: What New Jersey schools are doing

Robotics programming

  • K-12 Delran Robotics progression


Delran Innovation & Fabrication Lab