Amazon surprises students with gifts promoting STEM learning

BY Raven Santana, Correspondent |

The gift-giving season came early for students and staff at Columbus Elementary School in Carteret when Amazon surprised them with $25,000 in resources and grants to support the school’s new STEM “Think Tank” program.

Think Tank is ‘Teaching Hands On Inquiry Nurtures Knowledge,’ that’s what the ‘think’ stands for. So the idea of Makerspace Labs has been going on for the last few years in the state, and I wanted to bring it to the district,” said Rose Diaz, superintendent of Carteret Public Schools. “Our media centers were converted, we purchased furniture but we were definitely limited with how many activities we could offer the students.”

Diaz was once a student at the school. She says of the three elementary schools in town, Columbus needed the donation the most due to its socioeconomic status. All of the learning items the school received were based off a wish list.

“Our poverty rate level definitely would suggest that we should receive more funding but we don’t, so this is absolutely a blessing,” Diaz said.

This was just a small sample of that $25,000, so some grants as well so we could get more equipment. Some of them, for example like the light-up dinosaur, just letting students understand how electricity works,” said Rocko Carafano, Amazon site leader. “The same thing with some of the examples with the magnets and the snap circuit board so people can understand the basic fundamentals of electrical engineering, getting them exposure at an early age.”

In addition to the STEM learning items, Amazon also surprised a kindergarten class with new mobile makerspace that a will help introduce pre-K through first grade students to STEM.

Originally they offered a different amount and we were excited about that,” said principal Stephen Peters. “But when they saw our plan was to extend the program to our lower elementary classes — kindergarten, first grade, even pre-K — they said look at the size of your school as well. We have over 700 students, right now we have about 756 students, so with that large population they said if you really want to expand your program, let’s see what else we can do, and they offered us more.”

Amazon says part of the reason why they chose to surprise the school is because their fulfillment center is located just a few minutes away.

“We have literally thousands of people who work at the fulfillment center that live and work in the area. So anything that we can do to help improve the area and to help develop the students and those families as well,” said Carafano.

Peters says they’re excited to use the free technology and grant money to expand the engineering portion of their Think Tank program.