By Janice Fabry
Susan Banker Has Seen the Dividends of
Taking Students Beyond the Curriculum
By Janice Llanes Fabry
The Rye Neck School District celebrates education through STEAM enrichment programming that offers comprehensive learning opportunities in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics. It equips students with 21st-century skills by allowing them to explore their curriculums in a deeper way and by engaging them in critical thinking.
“Our enrichment programs help students connect to how they interact with the world. It is how they integrate their studies,” explained Susan Banker, Chair of the PTSA High School/Middle School STEAM Committee. “The subject matter becomes relevant.”
Banker is quick to point out that Enrichment is a schoolwide endeavor supported fervently by Superintendent Barbara Ferraro, High School Principal Tina Wilson, Middle School Principal Eric Lutinski, and the PTSA.
“Without the support of the faculty and the commitment and generosity of the PTSA, this would not be possible,” said Banker, who works closely with PTSA vice presidents Marcie Caplan and Arlena Amos, as well as faculty liaisons Meghan Hyland and Jenny Theall. “They all help us take our students above and beyond curriculum.”
Starting off as a Rye Neck class parent back when her son Benjamin was in elementary school, Banker’s involvement in the District expanded rapidly. She was instrumental in bringing the No Place for Hate program to the Middle School and working with Guidance Counselor Meegan Lawlor to provide a safe learning environment where all students are valued.
Upon moving into the role of STEAM Committee Chair in 2015, Banker introduced the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s Virtual Long Distance Learning. The PTSA and the high school faculty liaison brought interactive university-level lectures to Rye Neck’s classrooms through Skype-like technology.
PTSA President Gloria Golle remarked, “I am so proud to work with amazing volunteers like Susan Banker who bring our STEAM programs to life. Currently, it is an almost $40,000 program that reaches all four of our schools and it is such a wonderful way to bring experiences to students that they may otherwise not have.”
The STEAM Committee also provides live lectures for students, whether it’s a NASA astrophysicist, a Holocaust survivor, or an archaeologist from Turkey. “I think it’s important to bring in speakers who have interdisciplinary interests,” suggested Banker, who earned a Marketing and Consumer Psychology degree at the University of Pennsylvania before becoming a lawyer.
Last year, Banker brought in U Penn Neuroscience, Psychology, and Marketing professor Michael Platt, a brain research pioneer. His lecture on brain function and how social media impacts decision-making riveted students.
“As a lawyer, I have always been a proponent of original documents and eyewitness accounts, so that students can investigate and decide for themselves,” noted Banker. “We bring in speakers who have first-hand experience and are engaged in making history. They stroke the students’ passions and help them evolve, the ultimate goal of any enrichment learning effort.”
Coming up this spring are Dr. Jason Carmel, a Rye Neck father who will discuss neurobiology and psychology, and a return visit by Civil Rights activist/author Nell Gibson, who will provide a valuable glimpse into her life as an African-American girl growing up in the Jim Crow-era South.
Other programs the Committee offers are dance lessons, field visits to the Jay Heritage Center, one-person reenactments by professional actors of books the students are reading, and Shakespeare Theatre productions.
“Another way of sparking imagination is to bring the pages of assigned literature to life through theatrical performances. Often, it is the first theater experience the kids have,” said Banker.
Although Banker’s son Benjamin graduated two years ago from RNHS, she has stayed the course as STEAM Committee Chair. “I want to continue introducing formative educational opportunities to help young people actualize their full potential and to understand what they have to offer. The looks on our students’ faces, their appreciative standing ovations, and the projects generated afterward are particularly special to me.”
Gloria Golle, PTSA president, and Susan Banker, STEAM Committee chair