By Patrick Donachie
Students in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program at Merrick Academy Charter School in Jamaica are embarking on a weeks-long program of hands-on science workshops at York College, an event made in concert with the National Aeronautic and Space Administration’s Minority University Research and Education Project.
“It’s a program in which the goal is to increase interest in students in the sciences in the community,” said Michelle Harrison, Merrick Academy’s STEM teacher. “So they’re targeting schools in the community underrepresented, and minority students. The programs are designed to increase students’ interest in STEM by using technology and hands-on projects.”
About 25 students from Merrick are attending the program at York College, one of nine NASA STEM education sites throughout the country. The program’s goal is to increase the number of underserved students who are interested in NASA specific STEM careers, and to offer guidance to parents on how to facilitate their children’s interest in STEM education and professions. Harrison said the NASA program at York helps to unlock potential in STEM students.
“Some of the activities they have planned for them, since they involve real-life challenges, these are things they are able to see and they visualize what they’re learning, so they’re able to put them into action in a real situation,” she said.
The first lesson involved a look at solar power, and students started learning how to build solar cars, according to Harrison. She said other activities planned for the two-month program included robotics, chemistry experiments, liquid nitrogen ice cream making and flight simulations.
Anna Bassoo had a son in the second grade at Merrick Academy who was attending the program who also attended the previous year. She said the effect the NASA weekend classes had on him was pronounced. In the previous year, he learned about the galaxy and how humans could create a settlement on another planet.
“He had a tent set up in the living room, trying to figure out what would survive,” she said. “He looked forward to going every Saturday. He was so engaged in what he was taught that even when there was something on the news he’d learned about, he would quickly make that connection.”
Thalia Wilson-Palmer, whose daughter Gianna is enrolled in the program, said the workshops were revelatory and had sparked renewed interest in her daughter about a new approach to learning.
“When she signed up for it, she was so skeptical. Now, she’s happy, she’s enjoying it,” she said. “It’s really nice because she’s learning more, and understanding the concepts she learned in school more clearly.”
Gianna personally gave the program high marks.
“I love it,” she said. “I’m definitely thinking differently about science.”
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona