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Exciting New Mobile STEM Lab Debuts with Help from 3 Schools

EASTCONN’s long-awaited mobile science laboratory for grades K-12 will soon make its regional debut, thanks to three northeastern Connecticut schools that are participating in a pilot program this spring.

“We’re very, very excited about it,” said Marlborough Elementary School Assistant Principal Kim Kelley, when asked about the Quinebaug Middle College (QMC) Mobile Stem Lab pilot.

 Marlborough joins Lebanon and Voluntown, as well as EASTCONN’s Clinical Day Treatment programs, to try out the QMC Mobile STEM Lab, and  provide feedback on its curriculum, teacher-training components, equipment, student programming and logistics.

“We are so grateful to Marlborough, Lebanon and Voluntown for helping us pilot our mobile lab,” said EASTCONN’s STEM Education Specialist and STEM Lab Coordinator Stacey Watson. “We want  the lab’s activities, field trips and school visits to be as seamless and engaging for students and teachers as possible.”  

Three years ago, a $12-million Magnet School Assistance Program (MSAP) made it possible for EASTCONN and one of its magnet high schools, Quinebaug Middle College (QMC), to envision and build a mobile STEM laboratory that would primarily serve the learning needs of QMC students, acting as a tool for improving student access to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).But the lab would also be capable of visiting smaller schools with limited resources, sharing sophisticated equipment for conducting experiments on field trips to sites like vernal pools and forests. 

The STEM Lab provides work-stations for up to 20 students, an electron microscope, compound microscopes, Vernier probes, interior and exterior flat-screen TV monitors, a sophisticated weather observation station, iPads for data collection and analysis, and basic science lab equipment. The lab’s Next Generation Science Standards-aligned curriculum includes sections on the watershed, biodiversity, climate change, feeding the hungry, waste water treatment and introduction to robotics. Each can be customized.

The required teacher-training for pilot schools is underway now and participants will co-teach on the STEM Lab with Watson. 

Now through June, teachers and students from the pilot schools, as well as EASTCONN’s Clinical Day Treatment programs, will join Watson on the STEM Lab to conduct experiments and help her refine details related to everything from scheduling to equipment needs.  

“When I first entered the Mobile STEM Lab, I was surprised by the simplicity,” said Marlborough Elementary School (MES) sixth-grade teacher Kelly Mirando. “It has a great setup … The lab is fully equipped with the latest technology that will be exciting and engaging for students. MES is lucky to get a preview ... “    Alycia Trakas, Assistant Superintendent and Principal at Voluntown Elementary School, said enthusiastic teachers had proposed participating in the STEM Lab pilot. “If teachers are excited about what they’re teaching, then it’s going to trickle down to kids being excited about learning.” 

Voluntown will use the STEM Lab’s climate change curriculum, said science teacher Andrea Bunger. “Stacey is tailoring the curriculum to what I’m teaching,” Bunger said. “The unit on climate change is pretty 21st century.” Bunger’s classes will meet the STEM lab at a nearby state forest to conduct experiments on-site. 

“As a result of Stacey’s expertise and her connection with the STEM Lab, EASTCONN has also become a rich resource for professional learning in NGSS,” said Toni Ryan, Ed.D., EASTCONN’s K-12 Student Services Director of Curriculum and Instruction. “Stacey is already offering NGSS PD to area teachers. Some of it will take place on the Lab, and that’s fun for everyone.”

Lebanon Elementary School Principal Andy Gonzalez said his teachers learned about the Mobile STEM Lab pilot after Watson delivered NGSS training to them. 

“When we’re given an opportunity to have experts visit our school and provide our kids with some hands-on, real-life science learning opportunities, we jump at them,” Gonzalez said. “Anytime we can partner with EASTCONN and take advantage of the educational resources that [they] offer, we’re very happy to do so.”

QMC Mobile STEM Lab Summer Programs for teachers and students are being offered this summer. Contact Stacey Watson at 860-455-1508, or swatson@eastconn.org.


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Yoga, Anyone...? Wellness Options Grow

Photo above: EASTCONN Teaching & Learning staff enjoyed a meditative yoga session, sponsored by ECHIP, at a recent work retreat.  


Eastern Connecticut’s first regional employee health insurance collaborative is actively promoting healthy lifestyles for members with on-site classes, health fairs, wellness seminars, and other programs that encourage employees and their families to make healthy choices. 

The collaborative, called the Eastern Connecticut Health Insurance Program (ECHIP), enables members to stabilize and manage their costs. ECHIP’s 4,000+ members include employees of EASTCONN, and both the municipalities and school districts of Coventry, Tolland, Putnam and Plainfield. ECHIP towns and districts have saved an average of 10% yearly on their insurance costs since the collaborative began in 2012.

“ECHIP is running so smoothly that we can think proactively about ways to help employees and their families become even healthier,” said ECHIP Administrator Larisa Carr, who manages ECHIP for the collaborative. 

“If we can all hold the line on insurance claims because our employees are making healthy lifestyle choices, then our insurance renewal rates are lower and we keep our premium costs in check,” Carr said. 

“It’s a win-win for everyone.” All ECHIP members and their families have access to free, online, health programming, as well as flu-shot clinics, and health fairs, Carr said. Members can also participate in health-risk assessments on a new employee ECHIP Web site. 

“Each ECHIP member has to figure out what health programs work best for its employees,” said Carr, “and everyone reports that voluntary participation in wellness programs is solid and growing.”

At EASTCONN, ECHIP supports a range of activities, including yoga classes, lunch-‘n-learns and seminars on topics like cancer, diabetes, sleep, stress reduction and healthy-cooking. EASTCONN has offered health fairs and incentivized walk/bike/run/paddle challenges, and will do so again in 2016-2017. 

Plainfield employees participate in health fairs, walking and wellness activity-tracking, as well as yoga classes, said Darlene Hill, who coordinates ECHIP initiatives for Plainfield. “We believe with the right motivation, knowledge and tools, staff will succeed at maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” she said. 

Beth Bauer coordinates Coventry’s programs, including health fairs, yoga, Weight Watchers subsidies, cooking and nutrition demonstrations and free access to town kayaks. A fitness challenge is in the works. “Wellness is a key component of our health insurance program,” said Bauer. “Our goal is to prevent what is preventable and diminish the negative impact of illness when it can’t be prevented.”

Tolland cuts insurance premiums by up to 3% for employees who meet certain wellness criteria, according to Michael Wilkinson, who coordinates Tolland’s initiatives. “Tolland sees wellness programs for employees as an integral part of our overall health insurance strategy,” he said. Tolland offers wellness classes, cooking sessions, health screenings, online lunch-‘n-learns and exercise programs. 

Putnam subsidizes Weight Watchers memberships, health fairs, walk/bike/run/paddle challenges and yoga. They also partner with Day-Kimball Hospital on wellness programming. 

To learn more, contact Larisa Carr at lcarr@eastconn.org, or at 860-455-1546. Visitwww.echipct.org.


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