November Community Award: Orange Public Schools

Every day, members of our communities rise to meet unexpected challenges. From children to parents and from caregivers to businesses, we have all been asked to step up and become leaders. We’ve faced and pivoted to adapt and grow through our everchanging world due to unforeseen events that affect our daily lives. No action is too small, and together our impact is large.

Your actions should be recognized and celebrated. Our communities are the foundation of our society, and we stand stronger together. PLTW is proud to celebrate diverse communities and its members who exhibit collaboration, leadership, and entrepreneurship in service across the nation. As a result, we have created the PLTW Community Celebration Awards to recognize communities that have come together to care for each other in times of need. Join us in celebrating the following community this month!

From ensuring accessibility for remote learning to supporting local initiatives, the Orange Public Schools community sought innovative ways to stay connected and give back during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – and they continue to do so. Located in Orange, New Jersey, Orange Public Schools serves approximately 5,500 students.

Orange Public Schools has and continues to find new and creative ways to connect with families and address their needs. During the shift to remote learning, the district opened kiosks to distribute Chromebooks, groceries, and meals to families. They also connected families with internet providers in the area to ensure students had equitable access during virtual instruction.

"Students never have been so dependent on home technological resources before,” said Mr. Aytas, STEM supervisor. “In the district, some students didn’t have access to devices or home internet. This created a bigger equity issue on top all the other issues. School administrators identified those families and worked with the district to provide the necessary support."

Addressing greater community needs, the district offered support to front line workers at their local Sheriff’s Department by providing PPE resources in May when supplies were low. In support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the community organized a mural painting event and peaceful protest to express and discuss the need for fair and unbiased policing within the community.

“It was a great opportunity to work with our youth leader Celine Jobson and Mayor Dwayne Warren,” said NaJaya Desormes, a senior at the STEM Innovation Academy of the Oranges. “I saw the community come together, bond, and express thoughts about injustices facing the Black community. I was excited to be there and express my opinion about the need for change through my art.”

During summer 2020, the district celebrated student accomplishments through virtual showcases and by organizing a “drive through” graduation processional event. In addition, many summer camps were offered throughout the district, including: 

  • STEM retreat where students were provided with supplies to complete design challenges at home while collaborating virtually with their peers and teachers
  • Parent information sessions provided in multiple languages to ensure caretakers have the tools they need to support learners at home
  • Synchronous learning opportunities for students enrolled in summer school and in content specific enrichment programs (mathematical reasoning, reading comprehension, oral communication, etc.)
  • Virtual field trips to a museum, an alpaca farm, and the White House
  • Q & A sessions with community entrepreneurs to learn about their experiences organizing a startup company 
  • Summer art camp and virtual exhibits
  • College prep programs in collaboration with New Jersey Institute of Technology 

When planning for reopening for the 2020-21 school year, the district involved the voices of all community stakeholders by providing surveys and reviewing the data collectively during a town hall forum to ensure the plan was collaborative and responsive to the needs of families. The district is currently focusing on exploring ways to make online learning interactive, engaging, and supportive of the social and emotional needs of students.

“The City of Orange has come together in an inspirational way to ensure that the needs of our community members are heard and addressed,” Science and STEM Coach Andrea Henry said. “I consider myself truly lucky to work with such talented and compassionate people.”