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In The News

Program puts "fun" in fundamentals
STEM Academy soars.

Student at 21st Century Summer Program(September 21, 2012) - The 21st Century Summer Program, which ended Aug. 2, provides academic support for students in basics such as language arts and math. But the curriculum also offered classes in sign language, cooking, journalism – even rocket science. For 178 middle- and high-school and 158 elementary-age participants, the five-week program put the "fun" in fundamentals.

The 21st Century Program, funded by government grants, operates during the school year at a handful of elementary and middle schools. In addition to ensuring that students are on track in reading, writing and math, the program emphasizes student fitness and citizenship.

The summer program had a twist this year. Some middle-school students attended a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Academy, where they learned about aviation and robotics under the guidance of NNPS teachers and volunteers from Newport News Shipbuilding, NASA, Jefferson Lab and Lowe's. Students had to find the density of different materials used to build aircraft, determine the height of rockets they made and launched, and build and program robots.

The real-world application of math and science lessons made an impression on the students. Adult mentors tied the schoolwork to careers. The middle-school students, in turn, served as mentors for their younger counterparts. And, teachers said, all of the students will act as catalysts in their classrooms during the school year, thanks to the summer classes.

In the robotics lab one morning, two girls stood by a table with Monica Clark. The students were trying to assemble a robot from a tray of parts. Later, they would customize it. Clark, a senior nuclear electrical designer at Newport News Shipbuilding, also volunteers at Huntington Middle School. She said it's important for her to model a STEM career for girls. 

Corey L. Gordon, program administrator, said the STEM focus supports NNPS efforts to ensure that all students complete algebra by the eighth grade. Students Tanner Loper and Valencia Remson, both eighth-graders at Crittenden Middle School, took algebra during seventh grade and will study geometry this year. Both students connected math to their STEM Academy courses.

During another morning session, instructors from NNPS' Aviation Academy talked about aircraft construction, specifically the use of composite materials, like carbon fiber. The students fingered pieces of the material as they determined its density and calculated the weight of an airplane's frame.

Tanner liked that carbon fiber is durable, but light. Valencia said she never knew fiber could be so strong. It's Tanner's second summer with the 21st Century Program. He said the program offered him "a head start for math next year. Plus, the field trips and labs are fun."

Valencia noted, "It's an opportunity to learn more. You get to see many different jobs, and it's hands-on."

Tanner added, "Plus, you get to see kids from other schools."

Both students cited the practical application for math lessons. "It wasn't just a bunch of numbers," said Valencia. Tanner added, "It's easier to remember because it's fun." Both students are considering applying to the Aviation Academy. Tanner is thinking about a career as an aeronautical design engineer. Valencia, who said she likes solving mysteries, is thinking about a career as a forensic detective.

Down a hallway, students in Wilbur Powell's geometry class competed against one another to name the geometric planes formed by construction-paper dots on the walls and floors of their classroom. In Jeff Lloyd's social studies class, the students devised their own mnemonics to help them remember the names of major rivers in North America.

Lloyd said students who attend the summer program serve as ambassadors of learning in the classroom during the school year. "They're hungry for knowledge," he noted. Lloyd, who teaches at Huntington Middle School, said the summer studies help students prepare for the faster pace of learning they experience in middle school. "They like the discipline, too," he added.

Near the end of the program, the middle- and high-school students hosted their younger counterparts from the 21st Century Summer Program at Newsome Park Elementary School. The younger students solved math problems and read non-fiction to improve their comprehension, but the highlight of their visit was a trip to the robotics lab. The middle-school students explained how they'd programmed one robot to tell the difference between blue and black rubber balls. A second robot could detect and follow a line of tape on the floor. A third responded to hand claps. The elementary students watched in quiet absorption. At the end of the demonstration, one student said, "I want to do that." His classmates all nodded.

Gordon started planning the summer program at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year. He said addition of a STEM focus required a lot of work, but was worth the effort. "The STEM Academy soared beyond my vision," Gordon said.

Jennifer McClain, manager of the Career Pathways program at Newport News Shipbuilding, said the shipyard had 15 employees who donated more than 125 hours of service to the STEM Academy. McClain added that yard employees are already looking forward to next summer's program.

Photos of the 21st Century Summer Program's STEM Academy  are posted on the NNPS Facebook page.