After-school STEM programs inspire kids to keep learning

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: new efforts to inspire
kids to learn math and science by engaging in after-school programs. Special correspondent Lisa Stark of Education
Week reports for our weekly series Making the Grade. WOMAN: Your timer, your tape. LISA STARK: These fourth and fifth graders
at Ella Risk Elementary in Central Falls, Rhode Island, are about to embark on an engineering
adventure. STUDENT: Yes, let’s move out this thing. STUDENT: Someone, tape this, so the marble
won’t fall off. LISA STARK: Their job is to construct a track,
then let loose a marble. Here’s the tricky part. ARTURO LUGO, Student: So, we put the marble,
and we have to make it into the goal in exactly one minute. LISA STARK: How hard is that? ARTURO LUGO: Very hard. WOMAN: You guys are pretty good. LISA STARK: Teacher Sheryl Wilson says this
feels like a fun game, but it’s really much more. SHERYL WILSON, Teacher: The lesson scientifically
was about friction, potential, kinetic energy, slope, how are you going to make it last 60
seconds? So, it’s a continuation of redesign, redesign,
redesign, and what works and what doesn’t. STUDENT: Oh, it’s too high. STUDENT: The tape is too slippery. LISA STARK: The students are here because
they want to be. They can sign up for this free STEM club that
meets weekly after school. After-school programs like this allow students
to learn in a low-stakes environment. There are no tests. There is time for exploration, and failure
is celebrated. You make a mistake, you figure out what you
did wrong, you try a different approach. This program, called SMILE, is one of hundreds
of different after-school science, technology, engineering and math, STEM, programs around
the country. Here, the idea isn’t to mirror the school
curriculum, but to complement it. ELIZABETH ABREU, Student: I knew that SMILE
was science, so I wanted more time with science. LISA STARK: Why did you want more time with
science? ELIZABETH ABREU: Because I don’t get that
much science in my class, and because I like science. LISA STARK: Nationwide, only about half of
fourth graders get hands-on science activities at least once a week. By eighth grade, the vast majority of students
have access to science labs, but only about 40 percent have sufficient lab supplies. It’s why after-school opportunities have taken
on added importance. ANGLEYN TORRES, Student: It’s fun. We got to do a lot of building. LISA STARK: STEM advocates say classes like
this one, that encourage teamwork and analytical thinking, are critical in our increasingly
technological world. Claus von Zastrow runs a business-backed nonprofit
that works to expand and improve STEM education. CLAUS VON ZASTROW, CEO, Change the Equation:
When we see the rate at which stem skills are increasing in importance in jobs across
the country, we would like to see the same increase in student performance in STEM in
our schools. And we’re not seeing that yet, and that’s
very concerning. LISA STARK: Only a third of eighth graders
are proficient in math and science, and, in 12th grade, about a quarter are. And measured against other countries, U.S.
students lag behind; 14-year-olds in the U.S. rank 10th in math worldwide and 11th in science. CLAUS VON ZASTROW: It took us a long time
to get to the point where we actually have really strong standards, for example, and
curriculum in STEM, and one could argue, in many states, that curriculum hasn’t even been
fully developed yet. LISA STARK: Von Zastrow says STEM skills are
needed in a broad range of jobs, from computer programming to health care to manufacturing,
and that there are not enough qualified workers to fill them. There is a debate about the size of this job
skills gap, or whether it truly exists in most STEM fields. But government studies show STEM jobs are
growing faster than other jobs, and do tend to offer higher salaries. WOMAN: We do seat belt ourselves in, so think
about how you might be able to mimic that. LISA STARK: Exposing students to STEM early
has benefits, building interest and confidence in math and science. DANIEL MONTOYA, Student: Science, I’m pretty
interested in it. But math, man, I’m not good at math. We’re going to learn about math, and I feel
like now I’m going to start getting math more and like enjoying it. CAROL ENGLANDER, Director, The Smile Program:
The research shows, the earlier we interest kids in science and technology, the more likely
they will follow through with it. LISA STARK: After-school STEM programs tend
to be local. Carol Englander started SMILE in Rhode Island
based on a program she saw in Oregon. Funded by corporate and foundation grants,
it now serves over 500 students in the state, from fourth to 12th grade. WOMAN: Everybody, show me your two sets of
wheels, your two axles. LISA STARK: The lesson for these middle schoolers
in Pawtucket design a car, taking into account mass and momentum, and ensure it will protect
the passenger, in this case a hard-boiled egg. WOMAN: What do we see as one immediate concern? LISA STARK: It’s not hard to get kids enthusiastic
about hands-on science and engineering. JA-SEAN PENATE, Student: I want to be an engineer
when I grow up. LISA STARK: What do you want to do? JA-SEAN PENATE: I want to create things. LISA STARK: But it is difficult to sustain
that interest, especially as classes get more difficult. CAROL ENGLANDER: We work very hard at promoting
a cohesive peer group where everyone knows it’s cool to be smart. They identify with science. They identify with STEM. And that carries them into high school to
take the harder science and math courses. PEDRO RAPOSO, Former SMILE Participant: After,
like, the first couple of sessions, I kind of just got hooked. LISA STARK: Pedro Raposo said his STEM group
became like a family, all there on their own time, all eager to learn. He participated through high school. PEDRO RAPOSO: The SMILE program tried to hit
on a lot of different subjects, so I was able to kind of like have a little taste of all
these different fields. And then I think that’s when I kind of figured
that I wanted to be an engineer. LISA STARK: Raposo has just graduated from
the University of Rhode Island with a degree in engineering, and is on the job hunt, the
first in his immediate family to attend college. Low-income students, minorities and women
are less likely to take STEM classes or pursue those jobs. Many after-school STEM programs aim to change
that. Teacher Janelle Haire: JANELLE HAIRE, Teacher: Right now, science
is dominated by white men, and I don’t know if you noticed in our club, it’s not all white
men, right? So, it’s really to show them too that you
can be an engineer, regardless of your race or your gender or your age or your education
or where you’re from. LISA STARK: To reinforce that message, STEM
programs often get outside the classroom. SMILE goes to science competitions and the
University of Rhode Island. PEDRO RAPOSO: Seeing all the students walk
around, the students with their backpacks just going from building to building, I was
really able to imagine myself there in four more years. WOMAN: Mass has to do with weight. LISA STARK: Exposing students to STEM jobs
and opportunities and surrounding them with equally enthusiastic students can boost interest
in STEM. It takes a concerted effort, both in school
and out. For Education Week and the “PBS NewsHour,”
I’m Lisa Stark in Central Falls, Rhode Island.

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