Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli is one of the brighter lights of the state Legislature. New Jerseyans from outside his 16th Legislative District — which cuts across parts of four Central Jersey counties — may not recognize the name. He doesn’t have a particularly high profile across the state, in part, we suspect, because he seems less inclined to play the sorts of political games that endear some of the more sycophantic rank-and-file to the powers that be.
But Ciattarelli’s voice deserves to be heard more widely. When he advocates for a cause, it’s worth a listen; even seemingly local issues on his radar typically have a broader application.
Consider, for instance, Ciattarelli’s championing of the Hillsborough Robotics team, specifically his belief that the district school board should help fund the extracurricular program. Ciattarelli is a Hillsborough resident without any direct ties to the program — he didn’t participate in his own youth, and his children don’t now. What he sees within Hillsborough robotics, however, is a microcosm of sorts of a greater educational dilemma. As a nation we increasingly talk about the importance of STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — education, and we’ve taken some positive steps in that direction. Yet there remains a frequent reluctance to change, clinging to old curriculum notions — and that reluctance extends to extracurricular activities.
Put another way, sports is still king, and while our coaches and athletes don’t necessarily need to be dethroned, it would help if the pedestal upon which they sit came down a bit, with available money redistributed a bit to reflect a more academic emphasis in our schools.
Hillsborough does almost nothing for its robotics team which, by the way, isn’t comprised of a tiny group of geeks — Team 75, as Hillsborough Robotics is known, has more than a hundred members. The district pays a small stipend for faculty advisors, and that’s pretty much it. Otherwise, the team is heavily reliant on an annual contribution from Johnson & Johnson, and its own fundraising efforts. Other districts help their robotics program; Ciattarelli cites the examples of Bridgewater-Raritan, Hunterdon Central and Montgomery high schools, which provide robotics budgets between $10,000 and $18,000.
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