The STEM TEACHER
Husband James Chesrown created the idea for the wall art “Dive into STEM” and the owner of Fisheye Graphics brought it to life and donated the decals.
BY LORI VAN DIEN
Walking the hallways of Jensen Beach Elementary between classes, Lauren Chesrown feels like a superstar as children from every grade call out her name upon seeing their STEM teacher.
“I have the privilege of knowing every child in the school,” she said. “I support the classroom instruction that happens with their regular teachers. My classroom is hands-on lab experiences that goes along with the curriculum for all K- to fifth-grade students. It’s such an awesome position to have at the school because I get to reach everybody and every one of them are mine.”
STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — is not something most people would associate with elementary schools, but Chesrown makes every class so interesting that even children struggling academically feel successful.
“The first week of school, to get students used to being in the lab, I gave them an engineering project with toothpicks and Play-Doh,” she said. “They had to build a standing tower to learn the routines and get familiar with the engineering design process.”
After moving to Jensen Beach, Chesrown fell in love with the water, saying the projects she is most proud of are those that teach students about coastal waters along Florida and worldwide.
She has been working with OCEARCH, a team of professional sports fishermen that partnered with the scientists responsible for tagging and following great white sharks. She reached out to them a few years ago and began teaching her students the purpose of its work, which also is a window to careers in science. Students learn the importance of preserving the great white shark because they are a big part of the health of our oceans worldwide.
“Even kindergarten students watched the team measure the shark and learned about measurement,” Chesrown said. “The older children take it further and learn how OCEARCH tracks their data. The bottom line is children are learning the importance of our water and the health of our oceans — and looking at one animal that is a huge reason our oceans maintain their balance.”
School principal, Joan Gibbons, is astonished with the lengths Chesrown goes to bring the world to her students.
“Lauren is making an impact,” Gibbons said. “She’s Skyping with world-renowned researchers on a ship with our third-, fourth- and fifth-graders in the multipurpose room — it’s amazing. These children will need to be thinking about careers sooner than they realize and to be able to connect with real world experiences like that is exciting.”
To teach students engineering standards — understanding wind and water energy — she had them build sailboats with foil, straws, wax paper and masking tape. She then had them go through the engineering and design process and consider how wind would move their vessels.
The students tested their boats using a kiddie pool and fan to see how they moved. Part of the process is to improve and modify, so they reworked their boats and tried again.
“This is so engaging and rewarding for them,” she said. “They feel good about what they’re doing — and then they see learning from OCEARCH how they might transfer that to adulthood, that the same things you’re learning in kindergarten can become a career one day.”
It’s difficult to keep children’s attention these days, but Chesrown says the students are excited when they come to class saying, “What are we engineering this week?” or “Are we doing sharks?”
Chesrown integrates local educational resources, including Inwater Research Group, which monitors the intake canal at the Florida Power and Light nuclear power plant on Hutchinson Island for turtles and other animals that get caught there.
“I use the resources in the classroom every year,” she explained. “This time students are learning about the sea turtles that nest here and a light that won’t disrupt the nesting activities. The final project was to engineer a light fixture that would be safe for turtles. The children are learning respect for the resources we have here, how important the health of the water is for animals and humans, while tying it all into their science standards and getting their engineering experience.”
Students recently completed an everglades project by building models of Florida before the waterways were changed and afterward to see how significantly different they are today and how the everglades aren’t getting enough water. The Everglades Foundation trained Chesrown with a course developed for high school, which was adapted for fourth-graders.
“I work hard to use community resources available here and get involved with the people that make a difference in our community — my biggest passion is the health of our water and that the students understand,” she said. “It was so helpful to work with the Everglades Foundation. You finally got to hear the full story. It began as a flood control idea 100 years ago. It’s important to see the big picture and hear all the information and decisions that got us to this point.
“I talk to the students about the coming 30 years worth of projects to restore the everglades, and that, ‘You could be one of those people that are working on this.’ I let kids be kids, but it’s nice to let them think about a life career that isn’t typical. Especially children in class who struggle academically but they’re growing up here loving the water, fishing and surfing. Then they see these men and women tracking sharks and they can relate and feel they could maybe do that as a life passion.”
Another resource Chesrown uses is the Environmental Study Center, which is available to all Martin County students.
“We are so fortunate that our school district has this resource; they have camps all year-round,” Chesrown said. “I think it’s the only one like it in the country. There is a whole curriculum ending with a field trip for every grade level to see what they’ve been learning.
“Fifth-graders go aboard a boat on Indian River Lagoon and visit the spoil islands, exploring the plants and animals that live there and learn the effects of erosion,” she said. “My husband, James, actually went to Jensen Beach Elementary and the school field trip included two days of camping on the spoil islands.”
With three young children, teaching full time can be challenging, but Chesrown says the church family is a great support in addition to her work family.
“Lauren has been an integral part of our son Isaiah’s development,” said Mark Hubbard, the pastor of ShoreLife Church. “He struggles with a cognitive learning disorder that has made school challenging and even intimidating for him. She was not only able to help him overcome his learning challenges by improving his proficiencies, but empowered him with a confidence and belief that he was, as she put it, ‘destined for greatness.’ She was able to get through to him in such a way that he began to believe it and live it out. She was a game-changer for our son.”
“One of the best things about teaching is watching a child light up over something they wondered about and finally see them discover it and feel successful,” Chesrown said. “There is a complete change in them. Teachers have to be on all the time, so even on your hardest day — seeing their joy completely lifts you up too and it’s the coolest most special feeling you can have to be there for them.”
Lives in: Jensen Beach
School: Jensen Beach Elementary
Family: Husband, James, and three daughters Saralynn, 9; Lily, 5 and Lorelei, 3
Education: Graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a bachelor’s in elementary education
Background: Born in New Jersey, her mother taught at private schools and was an art teacher with a background in architecture interior design.
How I got into teaching: “My mother was an art teacher my entire life, and I grew up with a background in art. Deciding to teach had so much to do with mom, we grew up surrounded by art, design and creativity and I loved it but wasn’t sure if I wanted to make it a career. When I stepped back to think about career choices I landed on teaching children after a lot of soul searching.”
Something my students probably don’t know about me: “I love animals and if I could, I would own a farm with a variety of animals.”