Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo

"Students back at Hyde Park Elementary for week-long STEM Science Camp"

Jul 18, 2014 | Posted in News

The Niagara Gazette - July 18, 2014:

Hyde Park Elementary’s halls are mosaicked with a rural scene, but the mentality of the teachers and students is decidedly technical.

The school wraps up its STEM science camp today, a program teachers and administrators alike have deemed a great success. The school conducted the week-long camp with the sponsorship of the Niagara Area Foundation and DuPont.

Sheila Smith, principal at Hyde Park Elementary, is excited about the program. “It’s a wonderful thing in education,” she said, “STEM allows students to make conceptual connections with common core standards in science and math.”

STEM is a national initiative for the advancement of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education. It aims to elevate scientific learning in the classroom in order to foster an entrepreneurial and forward-thinking spirit in American youth.

This local manifestation is one part of a larger, national commitment. In a world increasingly governed by technological advancements, STEM is an effort to recall the momentum that America once held in these fields.

In order to facilitate these federally proposed measures, Niagara County residents voted in September 2012 to allocate $66 million in capital projects to finance STEM education and the construction of STEM classrooms in Niagara County schools.

The school is calling this iteration of STEM ‘Camp Invention.’ Children move throughout a variety of classrooms that focus on a range of scientific topics: atomic bonding, natural and living designs, and code breaking. Students are encouraged to work collaboratively in efforts to build structures and solve problems.

As the children filed from classroom to classroom, workers laid wiring in the ceilings to prepare for the opening of the school’s STEM classroom.

The new STEM labs will modernize aging science programs in Niagara schools. According to the district’s website, each classroom will boast “lab equipment, interactive whiteboards with 3-D capability, virtual field trip capability, math manipulatives, and more.”

Moreover, each classroom will feature a region-specific art and instructional installation whose design mimics the Falls, reproducing layers of rock exposed to unveil a fossil record.

Together, these measures attempt to move science learning away from textbooks and case studies. “Students can apply their learning in hands on activities,” Smith remarked, “this is hands-on, visual learning.”

The students share their principal’s enthusiasm. Jewell Battle, a fourth-grader at Hyde Park, bristled with delight while she spoke about the camp, her eyes darting back and forth to the student-led projects going on around her.

“I like every single thing we do,” she said, “this is a really good way for kids to learn. I just want more people to come and see.”

One of her teachers, Ginny Sukmanowski, a special education instructor at the school and counselor at the camp, couldn’t help but break off her thought as she supervised and gestured to the kids. “Look at them. They’re engaged, they’re having fun, they’re learning.”

“Camp Invention” is one rung in an evolving, technically focused curriculum that has rippled from the elementary to the college level. Niagara University, this August, will host a similar camp, partnered with National Grid and specializing in energy, for students from grades 3-8.

Students from Niagara Falls High School are involved as well. Jessica Wilson, a 17-year-old intern working as an assistant in the camp, said she came to learn about the STEM curriculum, which the high school will be implementing as well.

“I didn’t expect to learn with the kids. I’m learning new things,” Wilson said. “And the kids, they don’t want to leave.”

To view this story in the Niagara Gazette, click here.

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