By DANIEL KITTREDGE Summer and science? It might not be the combination most students have in mind when the school year ends. But for students in the STEM Advantage program, the two went hand-in-hand over the past several weeks. "You've got to be precise
Summer and science?
It might not be the combination most students have in mind when the school year ends. But for students in the STEM Advantage program, the two went hand-in-hand over the past several weeks.
“You’ve got to be precise with what you do. You’ve got to double check everything, triple check, test things out … One thing about learning is that you just have to do trial and error,” Andy Wu, an incoming 10th-grader at Cranston High School East, said while demonstrating a series of circuit experiments last week at Park View Middle School.
Wu was one of several high school students who showcased their projects at Park View, while elementary-age students gathered at Stillhouse Cove in Edgewood, where they’ve gone on Friday mornings during the program to focus on water pollution and wildlife protection.
Passing motorists waved to the youngsters, who held signs highlighting their projects. Some stopped to get more information or to make a donation toward the students’ chosen recipient – the Sea Research Foundation at Mystic Aquarium, which is among the STEM Advantage partners. The students also made keychains and reusable bags out of T-shirts to sell in support of the fundraiser.
“Basically, what we’re doing is trying to spread awareness about how not to pollute the ocean and trying to help the fish,” said Kingstohn Xayapanya, who will be a fifth-grader at Dutemple this year.
He added: “I think it’s important because animals are one of the most beautiful creatures on Earth. A lot of species are dying from pollution, so I want to help Mystic try and change that.”
STEM Advantage, formerly STEM Mentoring, is funded by the United Way of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Foundation. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The program’s various partners and supporters have included Cranston Public Schools, the Cranston YMCA, Global Science and Envirotech Inc., Ocean State Kidz Club, the Cranston 21st Century Learning Center, and numerous other organizations, businesses and individuals.
STEM Advantage has, for the past several years, been solely an afterschool program. The pandemic forced its programming to move to a virtual model last year. This year marked the first time the six-week summer program was held in person.
The program’s model involves younger students being “mentees,” with older students serving as “mentors.” Its curriculum and activities “are all environmental conservation-based with a focus on STEM careers,” according to a history of the program compiled by its coordinator, Caitlyn Blankenship. There is a particular focus on putting female and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) students on STEM career paths.
“The whole idea of the program is for us to kind of have a K-12 pathway” for STEM activities and instruction, Blankenship said. She also noted that some students who participated as mentees in the early days of the program have not returned as mentors, “which is awesome.”
N’Italia Paquin, a teacher at Edgewood Highland Elementary School and one of the leaders of the program, was with the young students at Stillhouse Cove last week. During their weekly gatherings at the cove, she said, the children would take water samples, help clean up the area, and explore for bugs and birds, among other activities.
“We’ve been talking all summer about water pollution and how to keep our watersheds clean,” she said.
The students were excited to connect with passers-by from the community and at the prospect of supporting the Sea Research Foundation, Paquin said. Some of the students also tagged storm drains with chalk, hoping to provide a reminder to visitors about the importance of keeping plastics and other materials out of the draining system and away from animals like fish and sea turtles.
More than anything, Paquin said, the hope is that the students’ work over the past six weeks provides them with a foundation going forward.
“This was more to see how to do a community service project and what goes into it … It’s something they can use in the future,” she said.