Transforming Teaching at ASD

Transforming Teaching at ASD
Posted on 09/02/2019
Jenn Cava

Transforming Teaching at ASD

Written by Crystal Ward Kent

New Hampshire Women Magazine

Spotlight: Jennifer Cava

            Learning is a lifelong passion for Jennifer Cava, director of the Academy of Science and Design (ASD) in Nashua, New Hampshire. ASD serves students in grades six through 12, and has a STEM-focused curriculum, which means it emphasizes science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Cava did not come from a STEM background, but was drawn to the school’s commitment to their students.

            “After completing an undergraduate degree in Theatre and Language Arts, I continued my pursuit of a career in education while attending graduate school at Brown University,” she recalls. “As part of Brown’s teacher education program, I became involved with an initiative that explored the use of theatre as a way to get students engaged in literature. It was exciting to see how that program transformed these students’ learning experience. I realized that I wanted to continue that work and transform the way we teach.”

            Cava taught in middle and high schools in New England before arriving at ASD 10 years ago as a language arts teacher. She was simultaneously enrolled in a leadership program, and those skills allowed her to quickly move up to an administrative role, and eventually to become director.  “It was an interesting transition, going from a humanities background to leading a STEM school, but the passion for teaching and the energy is the same as what I saw back at Brown. Our team is eager to teach, and want to reach students in innovative ways. The entire school environment is geared toward inspiring students, nurturing them, and encouraging them to reach their potential--that’s what is important.”

            Leading a charter school is not without challenges, as Cava continually works to develop the school, promote its offerings, secure funds, and ensure that ASD has everything it needs to continue to achieve excellence. It has already been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a National Blue Ribbon School, among other awards. “It is a constant challenge to make sure that we are able to give our teachers and students the tools that they need,” says Cava. “Technology is always changing; programs have to keep evolving, and schools have to figure out how to provide the resources that faculty and students need. We also need to continue to build community partnerships. Relationships with businesses and the community in general are critical for our school.”

A Commitment to Empowerment

            While her duties often mean long hours, Cava is clearly dedicated to ASD. “I believe that every student deserves to be challenged.  At ASD, we focus on each student’s needs and help them find their passion and their interests. We engage families so that they provide encouragement and support at home, and help students stay on track.  Most important, I believe that we create an environment where students are encouraged and empowered to pursue their goals.”

            While Cava is pleased with ASD’s many accolades, she feels that they are not the main reason why the school is special. “It’s hard to put into words, but ultimately, it’s because this school is a place of kindness and tolerance; students can be themselves here. Everyone on the team really believes in the mission of the school. Teachers embrace the diversity of the students, and students are kind to each other. We are a true community.  I believe that students know that the teachers and staff all want what’s best for them, and to see them become successful in their careers and in their lives.”

            Like most schools, ASD is trying to imagine what the world will be like in 10 or 15 years, and evaluate what skills its students will need when they enter that world.  “This is why it’s so important to have strong relationships between schools and the workplace,” says Cava. “We need to know what skills our students are going to need down the road; what will jobs be like? We need to incorporate real-world skills into our curriculum so that we keep pace and our students are ready. I think every school needs to develop better communication skills with the workplace, and that is certainly one of our goals.”

            As an alumna of Smith College, a women’s college in Northampton, Massachusetts, Cava is also committed to encouraging girls to explore careers in STEM.  “We are starting to see a shift and I’m thrilled about that,” she says. “The number of girls enrolled in our school has increased steadily, and we are now at an almost 50/50 ratio to boys. We are seeing more girls going on to pursue STEM careers, including several attending MIT, and recently, two female teams from our school won a national science competition. STEM is for everyone and the possibilities within these fields are limitless—that’s the vision we have at the Academy and one we hope to share.”      

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