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Discovering the power of education to transform lives often begins with a single spark. For Mr. Edward (Ed) Toman, Superintendent of Mercer County Schools in West Virginia, that spark ignited over 15 years ago when he first encountered JASON Learning. Today, Ed stands as a champion of STEM literacy, thanks to his unwavering dedication and integrating JASON Learning programs into the curriculum of Mercer County Schools.

Join us as we delve into Ed Toman’s inspiring journey and explore how JASON Learning has become a cornerstone in his mission to empower students through STEM. 

Curious about how he first connected with JASON Learning and what drew him to the program, we asked Ed to reminisce about his journey. He shared one memory that stands out vividly. It was an evening in 2010 at Glenville State University, where he was working as a JASON Director and Hidden Promise Coordinator. Ed had the opportunity to have dinner with his wife and Dr. Robert (Bob) Ballard, the founder of JASON Learning and a researcher most known for his discovery of the RMS Titanic. His wife complimented Dr. Ballard on his Mickey Mouse watch, to which Dr. Ballard casually responded, “Walt Disney gave this to me.” 

This unexpected connection left a lasting impression on Ed, underscoring the profound impact of mentorship and personal connections in education and beyond. This event was also when Ed first met Dr. Eleanor Smalley, the current President and CEO of JASON Learning. Since then, Ed has been a passionate advocate for integrating JASON into all areas of education, believing it to be essential for sparking student interest and making real-life connections across all subjects.

Strong leadership is crucial in transforming education, and superintendents like Ed Toman serve as powerful role models in this journey. His dedication, passion, and vision inspire both educators and students to reach new heights.

Dr. Eleanor Smalley, President and CEO of JASON Learning

Mercer County Schools have fully embraced JASON Learning, implementing it across all 25 schools, tech centers, and even preschools, reaching about 1,200 staff and 8,500 students. As a cross-curricular program, JASON Learning seamlessly integrates into any classroom, making it easy for districts to incorporate STEM principles throughout their entire curriculum. This comprehensive adoption has earned Mercer County the coveted AASA/JASON STEM Certification, highlighting their outstanding accomplishments in STEM education (read more here).

JASON keeps me focused on today and tomorrow and our future more than how we were taught in the old days. Things are changing, and without JASON, schools are lacking.

Ed Toman

A dedicated STEM Core Team led by Dr. Ernie Adkins, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Schools, works hard to integrate JASON Learning into all subjects and monitor their progress towards becoming a more STEM-enriched district.

Rhonda Rogers, Title I Supervisor, leads these efforts in elementary schools, while Angie Grosclose, Secondary Education Supervisor, oversees secondary schools. Additionally, eight certified JASON Coaches support teachers by providing training and promoting hands-on STEM activities in classrooms. This approach has significantly increased the use of JASON, with 1,223 participants (some attending multiple times) in JASON training in the 2023-24 school year alone.

One of MCS’s primary schools is using some JASON resources about recycling and water cleanup for a Title 1 parent night in April. It will be composed of stations with different learning activities and partners within the community. To continue working with the community, they are coming up with a plan of having the school as a recycling station and also other ways to keep our water clean.  

As we continue our units within the elementary grade levels, other teachers are taking notice and want in on the action. Even though we didn’t aim our lessons at the primary grade levels, they are now more curious about JASON Learning. Throughout the spring, we will be focusing on lessons to inspire the primary teachers.

Kaila Hardin, a JASON Coach at Mercer County Schools

Mercer County Schools’ commitment to STEM education is evident in their participation in the 2023 JASON National Conference, where they brought 33 staff members. This year, they have 21 educators planning on attending the annual event. By participating in JNC, teachers and administrators gain exposure to the latest STEM education strategies, resources, and best practices, as well as provide a platform for Mercer County leaders to network with others and bring back fresh ideas that can further enhance their district’s educational approach. JNC inspired them to participate in the annual ReMA/JASON Youth Recycling Contest, leading to 437 out of 560 participating students coming from Mercer County.

JASON Learning is an expedition in STEM education. We see ourselves as Argonauts on a thrilling adventure to discover real science, technology, engineering, and math. By using role models and real data, we provide authentic examples that inspire and educate. Mercer County Schools exemplify this spirit by integrating STEM into every corner of their instruction, setting a benchmark for how dynamic and engaging education can be.

Dr. Eleanor Smalley, President and CEO of JASON Learning

Ed’s involvement with JASON Learning has also facilitated connections with superintendents across the country, offering him fresh perspectives and ideas to improve his district. In a previous role as Superintendent of Wetzel County Schools, Ed embarked on a JASON Argonaut Expedition to Silicon Valley, California, with a board member. They toured Facebook, Apple, Google, and Stanford Design School, inspiring themselves and student Argonauts to envision transformative changes in their schools.

JASON Argonaut Expedition Leader, Jude Kesl, plays a crucial role in these adventures, pushing participants to explore beyond their comfort zones and gain experiences of a lifetime. Mercer County Schools celebrates its Argonauts with a wall of memorabilia (shown below), showcases them at community events, and allows them to speak at board meetings, underscoring the importance and excitement of STEM education within the district.

Since his involvement with JASON Learning, Ed has led 11 expeditions and supported 30 Argonauts, including students, teachers, himself, and a board member. These expeditions span diverse locations, from the Amazon Rainforest to MIT and Silicon Valley. The Argonauts who have had the opportunity to be Argonauts thanks to Ed are listed below:

  • GSC JASON Consortium – Sara Mullins
  • Amazon – Haley Feldmeier, Aubrey Neff, Leslie Lively
  • Malaysia – Brittany Mason, Travis McCoy, Sharon Snider
  • Silicon Valley – Jeromy Kelch, Cole Henderson, (BOE Amy Cooley, Supt Ed Toman)
  • Costa Rica – Cameron Riggenbach
  • Andorran – Carolyn Hizer, Abby Stackpole, Martha Doiron
  • Amazon Rainforest – Hallie McDonald, Sharon Snider, Madison Fetty
  • Virtual – Bri Goddard, Brianna Herrick
  • Boston MIT – Joe Flanigan, Teresa Barton, Savannah Mongeni
  • Houston – Christina Hulsey, Bryce Burgess, Olivia Linkous
  • Houston – Larkin Lucas, Eva Coleman, Blake Blankenship

Photos from the Argonaut Expeditions!

Ed’s engagement extends to the AASA/JASON STEM Consortium, which started in 2016. Through the consortium, he connected with Dr. Bernadine Futrell, now Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education. Their relationship has been instrumental in planning educational trips and events. In 2024, Mercer County Schools took over 60 students on two separate trips to various HBCU colleges on the East Coast—one to visit Dr. Futrell in Washington D.C. as well as Howard University and Coppin State University and another trip to visit Livingstone College and Benedict College.

Ed Toman’s journey with JASON Learning exemplifies the profound impact of innovative STEM educational programs. Through his leadership and unwavering commitment, Mercer County Schools continue to inspire and prepare students for a dynamic future. His efforts have not only transformed the educational landscape in his district but have also set a benchmark for other districts to follow!

By fostering a culture in Mercer County Schools of curiosity, hands-on learning, and real-world application, Ed has ensured that students and teachers are consumers of knowledge and active creators and innovators.

As Ed continues to advocate for STEM education, his legacy will undoubtedly influence countless educators and students, proving that one individual’s dedication can indeed spark a revolution in lifelong learning.