By Kyle Barr
At a glance, the Long Island Explorium building looks like an old-school log cabin compared to the great glass facade of the neighboring Port Jefferson Village Center and the rustic townhouses or surrounding businesses.
If anything, both the building and the Long Island Explorium program, which brings in school-aged children from all across Long Island in education programs, stand out. They have stood out in no small part thanks to Angeline Judex, the executive director of the explorium.
Judex has been a part of the Port Jefferson program for close to two years. “She has a great desire to work with people, and she’s very honoring of other people’s perspectives,” said Jacqueline Grennon Brooks, the president of the Long Island Explorium. “Through that dialogue with people is how we can achieve these goals.”
Every year the explorium welcomes close to 10,000 young students through its doors. Inside is a number of puzzles and interlocking machinery, all part of a teaching philosophy called constructionism, which asks young people to use ingenuity and logic to solve problems on their own.
“She’s made her program very successful, and she’s brought in students from all over Long Island,” Port Jeff trustee Bruce D’Abramo said. “She’s one of the reasons that Port Jefferson is a place for learning and life sciences.”
The explorium has become a lightning rod for STEAM education and creativity in Port Jefferson since it was created in 2004, then bearing the name The Maritime Explorium. Since then, programs have expanded outward from Port Jeff, but the most sizable events still happen within Port Jeff Village, often spilling out from its log cabin building and onto Harborfront Park. In November the explorium received $43,626 in grant funds to install native plant rain gardens in high visibility areas such as in front of its building on East Broadway and the corner of East Broadway and Main Street.
While the Mini Maker’s Faire had its fourth year in 2018, under Judex, the event gained official status with the larger Makers Faire organization. The past two events brought thousands of people to the village who experienced many things from amateur DIY robotics to Colonial-era cooking and blacksmithing. Now expanding on the idea, the executive director has brought in past faire participants for “makers spotlights,” which show guests at the explorium their projects and explain to them how they created them.
“I have found her to be very personable, very organized and very focused,” said village administrator Robert Juliano. “She has a sunny disposition and always looking to make things better for the explorium and the community.”
In August 2017 the explorium hosted a watching party for the total eclipse of the sun. Even then, with so many heads turned to the sky, the explorium was pushing the scientific impact of the event by having those who attended help to accumulate scientific data to be used by researchers across the country. Children of all ages charted the temperature, percentage of the sky covered by clouds, the color of the sky and the visibility of the sun every five minutes until the conclusion of the eclipse. All the data was collected and sent to NASA.
Brooks said since Judex has become the executive director, the explorium has focused more and more on outreach outside the Port Jeff community. The explorium hosts outreach programs for public school teachers called Educate the Educators that sends explorium staff out to school districts such as William Floyd to help those teachers embrace problem-based education techniques, often on a small budget. In the past instead of simply teaching kids about earthquakes with pictures and PowerPoints, Judex used gelatin and had kids build houses that could resist the constant trembling.
“Because of economics, going out on field trips is being done much less than it has been done in the past, so what we do is we bring our program to school,” Brooks said. “This takes the explorium model to other aspects of their teaching program.”
Judex and the explorium are not slowing down either. The Mini Maker’s Faire will return next year, and the executive director already has plans to make additions to the building interior, working with a local Girl Scout to create a programmable robotic hand.
If anything, Judex and the explorium have become much less of a hidden gem, and more of a shining jewel in the Port Jefferson community.