Press Release | Amy Porter, Mass Live

Westfield schools recognized nationally for participation in science curriculum

Check out this article about Westfield schools being recognized as 2023-24 Project Lead the Way Distinguished Schools!

By Amy Porter

Mass Live

Posted on May 8, 2024

WESTFIELD — Lauren Figy Cadigan, supervisor of science, technology and engineering for grades 5-12 in Westfield, and Lindsey Ayers, STEM coach for pre-kindergarten to grade 4, have announced that Westfield Middle School and Franklin Avenue Elementary School have been recognized as 2023-24 Project Lead the Way Distinguished Schools. Project Lead the Way is a national nonprofit organization that provides a teacher-empowered STEM curriculum in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science used by Westfield schools.

The honor given to Franklin Avenue and Westfield Middle School puts them among a select number of schools across the United States providing broad access to the organization’s science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, curriculums — for Franklin Avenue through the elementary version, PLTW Launch, and for WMS through PLTW Gateway, the grade 6-8 curriculum.

To be eligible for the designation, Franklin Avenue had to have more than 75% of the student body participating in the program and offer at least one PLTW Launch module at each grade level during the 2022-23 school year.

Ayers said what makes the curriculum unique is that it helps to build transportable problem-solving skills for students at a young age. She said the projects are based on real-world problems, and the students go through a design process to solve them.

“They’re presented with a problem at the beginning of the month, learn all the science concepts and build skills, and at the end of the month, they’re presented with an engineering design problem, so they’re always building a prototype,” Ayers said.

For example, she said, in third grade, there’s a module called “Stability and Motion, Forces and Interactions,” which studies simple machines and compound machines. After the research, the problem students are given is to safely lift a tiger that fell into a moat at a zoo.

“Students have to create a device that consists of two or more simple machines to lift the tiger safely from the moat and set it down safely in another area,” which helps them to apply what they have just learned for a purpose, said Ayers.

“The neat thing about that process is they’re working in a group. It’s a process, design, trial, failure, redesigning — which is really cool,” Ayers said.

“It is an honor for Franklin Avenue to receive this national recognition from Project Lead the Way. Our teachers have worked diligently over these past five years to teach these STEM modules that engage and inspire our students. With Project Lead the Way, we are able to incorporate other disciplines, such as literacy and math, into lessons so our students see the connection between what they are learning and the relevancy it has to their lives,” said Chris Tolpa, principal at Franklin Avenue.

To be eligible for its designation, Westfield Middle School’s criteria included a percentage of students participating in one or more PLTW units, the number of PLTW units offered, and efforts to ensure equitable access to PLTW courses.

According to the announcement, research shows that the middle grades play a pivotal role in influencing high school, college and career success. Whether designing an automated robotics system or exploring aerospace by creating designs and prototypes, PLTW Gateway students engage in critical and creative thinking, build teamwork skills, and develop confidence in STEM subjects.

Cadigan said the Westfield Middle School has been implementing the curriculum for the last five years. and offers three Project Lead the Way courses: design and modeling, computer science for innovators and makers; and robotics and automation.

“PLTW Gateway at Westfield Middle School ignites curiosity, fosters innovation, and shapes the future leaders of tomorrow. At Westfield Public Schools, we are working hard to create a pre-K-12 pipeline that allows all students to see themselves in STEM. The teachers at WMS bring the curriculum alive and foster a love for learning in STEM,” said Cadigan, who was instrumental in bringing Project Lead the Way to Westfield in 2018, and was herself recognized in October as the Massachusetts Project Lead the Way Leader of the Year.

Cadigan said at the high school level, there are three separate PLTW engineering courses. Worcester Polytechnic Institute is a sponsoring organization of the curriculum, and students who take the courses in high school can get credit from WPI.

On Friday, Cadigan and Ayers will be accompanying 42 students and their teachers in grades 4-12 to showcase student projects from Project Lead the Way, OpenSciEd and STmath at a state conference at the Track at New Balance in Boston. Ayers said students will bring their projects and a tri-fold display that explains the process they used. She said the program is sponsored by the One8 Applied Learning Hub — the same people that provide the grants for the Project Lead the Way curriculum in Westfield.

Ayers said last year fourth graders from Franklin Avenue Elementary School attended the showcase, where hundreds of volunteers provided verbal and written feedback to the students who were also able to visit the projects of older students and ask them questions, and vice versa, which she said was inspiring to the students young and old.

“We are honored to recognize Franklin Avenue Elementary School and Westfield Middle School for their commitment to providing students with exceptional educational experiences while ensuring equitable access to PLTW programs,” said David Dimmett, president and CEO of Project Lead the Way. “We congratulate them on this achievement and celebrate their dedication to empowering students with the knowledge and skills to succeed, not only in STEM subjects, but preparing them for future careers and life beyond the classroom.”

For more information on Project Lead the Way, visit

You might also be interested in