As facilitators of the ThinkSTEM after-school program prepare to begin its second year, students and teachers gathered Thursday at the program's Ulster headquarters to show off the work they've accomplished so far.
The program, which builds thinking skills and prepares participating students from middle schools in four area districts for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, was a great success in its first year, facilitators said.
About 120 students participated in a three-hour, five-day-a-week after-school program and a four-week summer session, held at the former Sheshequin-Ulster Elementary School, and recruitment has started for the after-school program's second year, said site coordinator Heather Manchester. The second year of the program will begin Sept. 9, with all four partnering school districts - Athens, Sayre, Towanda and Northeast Bradford - continuing to participate.
In their first year, students explored a wide variety of topics, Manchester said, including their own interests explored through individual projects. Topics discussed included genetics, the science behind science fiction, and even music and sports. "Anything can be thought about scientifically," Manchester said.
The program, as well as the group of students, continued to evolve in its first year. ThinkSTEM, developed through BLaST Intermediate Unit 17, "has built a community of learners and thinkers," said facilitator Jessica Catania.
Group meetings quickly helped the children to work together as one unit, "something we had dreamed of from the beginning," Catania said. Students from four separate middle schools learned to discuss and debate issues and work together with minimum moderation, she said, with new children continuing to be welcomed into the fold.
Several students showed off their projects from the past year Thursday. Derrick Dickerson, who will enter ninth grade at Towanda Area High School this fall, worked on an onager - a medieval-era catapult - first with a friend and then on his own, said facilitator Kurt Risch. Dickerson first built a working small-scale prototype. Then, in order to receive a "grant" to purchase materials for the larger version, Dickerson presented the prototype to a committee of students and facilitators.
The onager is still a work in progress, but the tenacious Dickerson continues to work through the thinking process to create a successful product, Risch said. He's aged out of the program, but Dickerson plans to return in the fall as a junior mentor.
Aaron Trybula, an incoming eighth-grader at Towanda, spent several months working on a cartography project, designing models of a future world through the creation of several maps. It took him two months to finish a road map - the largest and most detailed of seven types of maps, he said.
In order to complete the map, Trybula had to include several integral parts of a city, including infrastructure, transportation, municipal services and a business district. He also included entertainment requests from fellow students, including a music museum, theme park and restaurants.
"There's more to a city than I thought there was, ever," Trybula said.
Trybula, who said he was interested in becoming a civil engineer or city planner, also had to use realistic measurements to construct the city. For instance, he had to include a two-mile runway at his airport, enough room to allow a Boeing 747 to land.
Trybula said ThinkSTEM is a fun way for him to explore his passions and prepare for the future. "The program has done a lot," he said.
Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.