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ParishSTEM Engineering a Connection to the Community
Posted 08/20/2014 03:42PM
LEGOs and popsicle sticks are the makings of a childhood memory and this summer, those memories were academically accelerated by student mentors and teachers from the award-winning ParishSTEM; Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math program at Parish Episcopal School.  ParishSTEM hosted a two-week summer series for students of Thomas C. Marsh Middle School Preparatory Academy and the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy at B.F. Darrell Middle School, providing a strong foundation – literally, and through an advanced curriculum.
“This has been an incredible experience for our guest students as well as for us here at Parish Episcopal.  We have all learned from the opportunity and for us to be able to share our facilities, curriculum, and experience, is really special in many ways,” said Jenn Makins, Director of STEM Education at Parish Episcopal School, who supervised the camp with Leon Darden and Ben Hendric, teachers at Thomas C. Marsh Middle School Preparatory Academy.  “The ParishSTEM program has grown by leaps and bounds in the last four years we have been fortunate to have numerous
people support the program with their time and generous financial gifts.”
Parish Episcopal donated the space of their 4000 square-foot makerspace Design Den for use by the camp, and fundraised to support the two-week camp, at no cost to the students of the Academy or DISD.  The program was designed to outreach and engage others in the community, and to provide a learning opportunity to inspire the students as their own campus will be the first middle school in DISD to offer a STEM program.
“I never would have thought about studying engineering before this program and I have had a great time,” said Marsh student, Dani Mays, who before the experience would have preferred to take dance or theatre, but would now be happy in the fall to be assigned to the Robotics course.
“We are very excited about our new program and the opportunities it will provide for our student’s futures.  This introduction by ParishSTEM sets the bar for our students, and our faculty,” said Nicky Niewinski, Principal at the Marsh Middle School Preparatory Academy.  “Our focus is to prepare our students for anything and everything that might come their way in the twenty-first century.”
Students designed and built LEGO robots, then programmed them from laptop computers to complete challenges, then built bridges of popsicle sticks and dowels - having learned concepts of engineering design - and finally load tested their creations. 
“This program totally changed my perspective about engineering and programming, and I definitely want to look into a career as a mechanical engineer,” said Jacob Wizeman, a student at Marsh Middle School Preparatory Academy. “I learned how to program, and so much more, and in the short time we had, found a whole new world.”
Rising sophomores at Parish Episcopal, Whitney Wheeler and Sophie Alford, and Stephen F. Austin University student Rebecca Woods, the daughter of a Parish educator, volunteered their time during the camp to mentor the students, as well as to build a FIRST LEGO League (FLL) table which will help equip Marsh’s robotics teams for their inaugural season.
“It’s been amazing to work with these kids and making them think, about how to solve problems and ask, and answer questions.  It has taught me how to ask more questions in my own experience,” said Wheeler, a member of Parish’s Upper School NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge team. “Watching them explore, and then solve problems and light up, you could really see their pride and excitement.  As a student in Ms. Makins’ program, I get so excited when something works and here, I experienced the other side of that enthusiasm.  It was great.”
“This was a terrific pilot effort and we hope to expand the program further,” said David Monaco, Allen Meyer Family Head of School at Parish Episcopal.  “The cross-culturalization of young people teaching young people was an education in and of itself, and we very proud of our whole team. The power of partnership knows no boundaries and for all of these students the expansion of their minds, and futures, has been cultivated.”
An Open House culmination program, with guests including dignitaries and supporters of both schools, as well as guests of the community, Alan Lowe, Director of the George W. Bush Presidential Library with whom Parish Episcopal shares a learning partnership and Lucy Hale, Director of School Programs, Perot Museum of Nature and Science.
“This program has brought the process back into the classroom, and it’s a program that is manufactured for the success of the students,” said Hale, who was impressed by the students, and their mentors, and what a program like the one sponsored by Parish Episcopal means for the community.  “The students have learned about limitations and how to take smart risks, use new tools, change modes, and that Parish Episcopal has shared their space and support team, so rich with resource, is what community is all about.” 
“It is important and in line with Parish's tenet of service that we reach out to others in the community as they seek to develop and grow their STEM programs and, when feasible, to share our extraordinary facilities with students and teachers from the community,” said Makins.  “We look forward to watching the program at Marsh grow and provide learning and a truly meaningfully expansive development in the near future.”
LEGOs, popsicle sticks and academic encouragement - and so are made the dreams of summer, and the dreams of tomorrow.

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