STEM Education in Full Bloom at LINK After School

Posted on Thursday, November 2, 2017 by Melissa Howison

In an effort to ramp up STEM education in Maryland elementary schools, the Department of Education adopted the Next Generation Science Standards in 2013. Now, Village Learning Place after school students in grades 3–6 are pioneering the future of STEM programming in Baltimore City Public Schools.

STEM refers to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and has become widely celebrated as a comprehensive approach to teaching critical thinking skills and equipping students with in-demand skills for the future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an increase of 1 million science and engineering jobs by 2022. A national attempt to meet this workforce need, by expanding STEM education through standardized teaching guidelines, resulted in the Next Generation Science Standards. Students enrolled in the VLP’s afterschool program, Let’s Invest in Neighborhood Kids (LINK), are helping realize that goal.

LINK After School students participate in STEM learning projects through a program called STEM Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools, or SABES, which grew out of a partnership between Baltimore City Schools and Johns Hopkins University. Educational and engineering experts devised a curriculum rooted in the idea that children learn best when their natural curiosities are given space and resources to grow.

Students enrolled in SABES complete experiments and challenges in which they grapple with sophisticated mathematical concepts and use advanced scientific thinking. Troy Steele, the LINK 5th and 6th grade teacher said he believes SABES is beneficial because it gives his students hands-on experience in an environment designed to meet their natural motivations. “That’s where all their investment is, in play. They don’t feel like it’s learning because they are able to have some fun with it.”

Their exploration culminates in a service-learning project at the end of the semester. Students observe areas of need in their community, identify a specific problem, and use their STEM knowledge and engineering skills to collaborate on a solution. Groups present their projects at a spring STEM showcase, where families, community members, and SABES students connect with and learn from local STEM professionals.

Statistics show that public school graduates are not prepared for the path to high-paying STEM careers, with particularly bad outcomes for African American and Hispanic students. Programs like SABES help create better opportunities for low-income and minority students. However, they cannot survive without sufficient funding.

LINK After School, and its partner school Margaret Brent Elementary, were one of nine partnerships chosen in 2013 to pilot the SABES program. Due to its success, SABES was recently adopted as the city-wide science curriculum, slated to debut in 124 Baltimore City schools soon. A grant from the National Science Foundation supported the after school component of SABES through its first two years when it was implemented at Margaret Brent and LINK After School during the 2015—2016 and 2016—2017 school years. Luckily, the VLP could to renew the program for the 2017—2018 school year due to a grant from the General Motors Foundation.

LINK students in grades 3–6 have been excitedly exploring the world of STEM in LINK After School. Support their learning—and the future of STEM education in Baltimore—by coming to the STEM showcase on November 29 from 5:30–7:30 PM at St. John’s United Methodist Church, 2640 Saint Paul Street.