Port Washington research program thrives

Port Washington research program thrives
Daughters of the American Revolution visit Port’s Historical Society / Photo by Robbie Lager

On Oct. 27, Blank Slate Media published an op-ed entitled “Port Schools Flunks Siemens Contest,” written by Joel Katz.

If you have not read Katz’s highly opinionated piece, here is a brief summary of its contents: in one fell swoop, Katz not only undermines the integrity of the Port Washington research programs, but he does so at the expense of the Port Washington School District by diminishing the importance of the school’s allocation of funds toward other programs. The basis of this highly opinionated article was that because Schreiber produced no Siemens semifinalists this year, the school must not be devoting enough attention to STEM education.

This piece, which was largely based on conjecture, was submitted to Blank Slate Media with full intention to misinform the public about the STEM programs of the Port Washington School District on a county-wide platform.

Schreiber currently offers three research programs that each focus on a different subject: math, science, and social science.

To get into the highly competitive research program, students must take a series of tests and go in for interviews at the end of their freshman year.

In the end, only 10 students get into each research class out of the dozens that apply, making it one of Schreiber’s most selective programs.

As the title of his piece suggests, one of Katz’s biggest grievances is the lack of Port Washington semifinalists in the 2017 Siemens competition.

Success in one research competition, however, does not reflect the quality of the research itself.

By classifying Port research students as failures due to one competition, Katz ignores the many accolades  that Schreiber research programs have received — and continue to receive — year after year.

On the topic of the Siemens Competition, Schreiber has had five semifinalists from 2014 to the present; in regards to the collective success of the social science, math, and science research programs, the student researchers’ awards and the vast array of competitions to which they submit their projects speak for themselves.

Last year, Schreiber had 6 Regeneron semifinalists: two from social science, three from math, and one from science.

Additionally, Schreiber boasted three Siemens semifinalists, four ISWEEEP semifinalists, two MIT Inspire finalists, and an impressive record in several local and regional competitions last year.

In his ill-informed article, Katz posed a series of hypotheticals about what the Superintendent of Schools or members of the Board of Education might say about the situation.

Portraying speculation as fact is highly unprofessional. Katz’s lengthy list of “ifs” is wholly unsubstantiated, and his issue could have easily been remedied had he actually contacted Board of Education members instead of molding ideas to fit his own personal beliefs.

“If you had the opportunity to speak to the president of our school board, she would tell you don’t focus on ‘statistics’ in Port Washington, like the winning of a science competition, but instead, we focus on trying to produce well adjusted children, free from too much stress and anxiety and with happy, smiling faces,” wrote Katz.

Guesswork doesn’t produce results, as members of Schreiber’s award-winning research programs are well aware. In order to more accurately gauge the Board of Education’s view of the situation, we reached out to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kathleen Mooney for a comment. Katz repeatedly criticized Dr. Mooney and the BOE for prioritizing the “whole student” rather than achievements in STEM.

“Perhaps, we have to worry less about our children’s self esteem levels and more about their proficiency in subjects that matter a great deal, in life,” wrote Katz.

Sound mental health and academic success are by no means incompatible.

How can students be expected to excel if they’re suffering under the burden of anxiety and academically induced stress? Schreiber students have proven their skills in STEM time and time again, and a humanitarian approach to learning does nothing to threaten those accomplishments.

It is completely fallacious to attribute Port’s absence in one research competition to Schreiber’s emphasis on well-roundedness and mental health.

“The knowledge and experience gained by participating at such advanced levels of competition will teach them lessons they will remember throughout their entire lives and set them on a path to make a real difference in the lives of others,” said Dr. Mooney.

The achievement of Schreiber researchers, though deserving of mention, should not be used as the sole measure of their success as students and as individuals.

The research program provides Schreiber students with experience, opportunities, and knowledge that they take with them to college and out into the world, and not all of these are necessarily STEM focused.

This three-year course teaches students important skills such as perseverance and hard work, while providing them with a space that nurtures creativity and collaboration.

Katz goes on to say that the district does not allocate sufficient resources to STEM subjects. He is, once again, incorrect in his assumption. Schreiber recently expanded its curriculum to include more STEM courses, such as Engineering, Intro to STEM, and Robotics I and II. In addition to these courses, 10 out of 26 of the AP classes offered at Schreiber are dedicated to STEM, and the school has devoted a significant portion of its budget to supporting the school’s research programs in science, math, and social science.

“…We do know that in our school district, girls softball, girls volleyball, girls tennis and girls badminton, for instance, are high priority programs, that we devote substantial resources to. Our superintendent will probably tell you that these fun programs are essential to educating the ‘whole child’, while focusing on participation in a STEM competition, is not essential,” said Katz.

There are several issues with this statement.

First of all, participation in athletics and intelligence or interest in STEM are not mutually exclusive.

Several studies have indicated that teenagers stand to gain many important life skills from participating in a school team.

In fact, a research project conducted last year by a current Schreiber senior found that students who participate in school sports tend to be more high-achieving and productive during their sports season.

A member of the girls volleyball team, she was a finalist and received honorable mention for this research project at the prestigious MIT Inspire competition.

Clearly, her participation in sports has not held her back as a researcher, and her findings were considered significant enough to be honored by MIT, arguably the world’s top STEM institution.

Whether athletic or academic, awards alone do not characterize any student’s achievements or worth.

As passionate members of Schreiber’s research program, we can attest to the incredible experience that we have gained by completing research at Schreiber.

The community, including Mr. Katz, should support and be proud of the program, its teachers, and its future.

Caroline Katz, Science Research 12

Adi Levin, Social Science Research 12

Emma Levin, Science Research 11

Emily Ma, Science Research 12

Brittany Polevikov, Social Science Research 11


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