After-school learning is engineered for fun

BOTHELL — It’s a simple enough goal.

Make a car out of pieces of tape, pencils, cardboard and anything that rolls, attach a balloon and see whose car can go farther and faster. Fourth graders are taking up the challenge at an after-school class at Springs Elementary School in Bothell.

Three volunteers from the Boeing Co. are helping with a program that aims to build the kids’ skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“It’s great because a lot of our students are low-income and wouldn’t be able to afford a traditional after-school club that might have a program fee,” said Nicole Nelson, a fourth-grade teacher who is working with the class.

The class, held on Tuesdays, was filled with 9- and 10-year-olds working in teams of two to build a better car.

One of the students, Coal Russela, 9, was working with his partner, Blake Flores, also 9. They call their team the Sounders. Both were worried that their car was too slow.

“Maybe it needs another balloon,” Blake said.

Is their car going to win the competition at the last class later this month?

Coal is pessimistic: “Do you see the wheels? They don’t stand right.”

Blake believes that more can be done: “We can improve our car!”

Nearby, Victoria Gisova, 9, who is a member of the Building Bears team, was having similar engineering issues.

“I have to put this stick in both wheels,” she said.

The program has been hosted at the school for two years in partnership with the Washington Alliance for Better Schools program.

“This program is happening all over Puget Sound schools in many different districts,” said Nelson. “Washington Alliance for Better Schools is a group that works with Puget Sound school districts to provide grants and enrichment opportunities to enhance student achievement, especially in the area of STEM.”

Each year, volunteers come up with a program topic for the kids. Last year, Boeing volunteers and the students calculated the height, distance and speed of rockets. The focus was on math.

This year, the program focuses on design.

Nelson is really impressed by the volunteers.

“The Boeing volunteers give their time, examples and real stories from what they live,” Nelson said. “They have been specially trained by classroom teachers to present this curriculum.”

One of the volunteers, Jeremy Grijalva, a stress engineer at Boeing, said this was great way to help out the community. He said maybe the students can share what they’re learning with other kids in the school. And maybe some of the kids will pursue an engineering career.

For Michael Woodworth, a structural analysis engineer, it’s a pleasure to help.

“Everything is going well. Children are really interested by the assignment, and it is nice to see how they’re doing on their path,” Woodworth said.

On this particular Tuesday, the third volunteer was absent on a business trip to China.

At the end of the session, Victoria Gravilova and her partner, Mia Gerbasi, also, 9, were stuck, still trying to fix a nozzle.

“Jeremy showed a book that explains how to place things,” Victoria said. “He helps us a lot, explaining how we have to do this, giving some materials. He told us to cut a hole here and to put the nozzle through it, and then tape it to the body.”

For Blake, the class has been everything hoped for when he signed up.

“Making a car is really fun!” Blake said.

Some day, he wants to be a machinist.

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