Hunterdon Central Regional High School district is embracing changes in both its curriculum and its facility in the 2019-20 school year.

The school has launched two academy programs, one in robotics and one in architecture and design, and finished construction on a new lounge area for its students.

According to Jessica Cangelosi-Hade, who is serving her first year as the school’s curriculum director, these changes have occurred in conjunction with the school’s strategic plan, a component of which is to prioritize student and faculty wellness.

“Having this culture of welcoming and openness, and one community – that’s really where all this is stemming from,” Cangelosi-Hade said. “We’re doing a lot in terms of wellness with our professional development for our staff, and we’re trying to empower students too.”

The academy programs in computer science and architecture and design were implemented at the encouragement of advisory committees comprised of teachers, business and industry members, and post-secondary institutions.

These groups determine whether or not there’s “a local need” for expanded education in certain subject areas, Cangelosi-Hade said.

In regards to the architecture and design program, Cangelosi-Hade said that there are “many growing job opportunities in fields of construction and architecture” in Hunterdon County in particular.

“(Students) could go directly into construction, or they could go into the design aspect … There’s a bunch of different pathways, which is really how we want to design our Magnet program – so they have various options as they’re going through.”

Discussing the computer science academy program, Cangelosi-Hade said its implementation reflects an increasing demand for individuals specializing in that area throughout both the county and the state.

“The state has a huge push for it, but there’s a good reason for it: there are so many jobs in computer science. There are more jobs in computer science than we can fill nationally,” Cangelosi-Hade said.

She added that greater diversity in the types of individuals pursuing careers in computer science is needed throughout the United States.

“When you look at national statistics, it’s very low in terms of how many students have had exposure to computer science before they graduate high school,” Cangelosi-Hade said. “And even within that small percentage, when you desegregate the data into females and males, minorities – it’s very, very low. Of the low percentage of students that take computer science, a high percentage is males and white or Asian. We need to expand to get into other populations or subpopulations of students.”

The academy programs available at the high school – numbering three in total, including a robotics academy program that is currently in its second year at the school – are what in part drove Cangelosi-Hade to accept a position as its new curriculum director, she said.

“Why don’t we incorporate more of these Magnet programs and academies into comprehensive high schools?” Cangelosi-Hade said. “It engages students. Instead of piece-mealing electives – one year I’ll take ceramics, another year I’ll take introduction to engineering, and the next year I’ll take choir – there’s a focus there, and an opportunity to build upon what you learn each year. And also an opportunity to explore the content that you’re interested in.”

Students who are enrolled in academy programs can pick and choose their own courses, according to Cangelosi-Hade.

“You kind of pick and design your own path,” Cangelosi-Hade said. “(In the case of computer science), maybe you’re more into programming, you’ll take courses in Java. Or, if you’re more into design, you’ll do HTML and web design.”

Cangelosi-Hade added that students in academy programs are also provided with opportunities to pursue service projects and job opportunities within the Hunterdon County community.

“I see it working in multiple ways. Some students can do service projects with a business, or could partner with middle schools or elementary schools and … educate students, for example,” Cangelosi-Hade said.

Cangelosi-Hade added that, in engaging students with the community, these academies in part work to encourage them to stay in Hunterdon.

“Typically we see students go away for college, and maybe they don’t come back. A huge push in particular from our Hunterdon County Freeholders is to get students to see the pipeline within the county, and I think (the school) is kind of contributing to that,” Cangelosi-Hade said.

“We’re not saying you have to stay; we’re saying here’s some good reasons you could end up staying, and here’s what your community has to offer you,” she added.

Cangelosi-Hade said that school administrators intend on continuing their efforts to expand upon the number of academy programs that are currently offered at the school.

“Ultimately the goal is that we’ll have quite a few of these academies and Magnet programs so that every student can find a home – to find something that they really feel like they belong to,” she said.

In addition to the new academy programs, a student area that is “the size of a small classroom” has been built in place of extra bathrooms located in the 11th-12th grade wing of the school, Cangelosi-Hade said.

The space contains new high countertops and benches, the latter of which are made from the parts of old, deconstructed green lockers, Cangelosi-Hade said. She added that the school intends on recruiting senior students to help design the space.

Students most commonly inhabit the area before school, after school, and during lunchtime, according to Cangelosi-Hade.

“It’s a more formalized place where they can sit, they can go on their laptop, they can eat, and do all that kind of collaboration,” she said.

The addition of the space ties in with school administrators’ commitment to promoting physical, mental and emotional wellness until the approximately 2,900 students at the high school can advance their own wellness separate from the school’s assistance, Cangelosi-Hade said.

“Ultimately, the goal is that we’re not just telling the students: here are some programs for wellness,” she said. “We want students to develop wellness programs with one another, and take that responsibility for truly caring about and helping one another, and hopefully expand beyond that and into the community.”

Caroline Fassett can be reached at

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