Arlington STEM program giving students real world skills

ARLINGTON — Teams of middle school students are being asked to design sensible, sanitary and sustainable water parks over the course of an eight-day summer learning program this July.

After a successful Summer STEM pilot program with 35 high school students last year, Arlington School District has decided to host a new middle school course this year.

Registration is open now.

There’s only enough staffing and transportation for one age group, so the high school program is not happening this year, district spokeswoman Andrea Conley said.

Teachers hope to capture the energy and enthusiasm of the younger students and get them excited about using STEM skills to solve real problems. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

“The emphasis is on giving students a more thorough understanding that science and math are not isolated fields,” Post Middle School science teacher Jennine Maner said.

“We’re part of a massive pool of knowledge out there that people use every day.”

From July 20 to 29, up to 60 students between sixth and eighth grade can participate in the Summer STEM program. They’ll be divided into groups of three or four to research and design a water attraction for Arlington. They can focus on a small spray park, or dream bigger with a sprawling aquatic center and thrilling waterslides.

“The students can really go off in every direction,” Maner said. “Because of the comprehensiveness of what they’re doing, they can come in at any level and make a lot of progress.”

The teams will work from the ground up, starting with sketches and site surveys to determine what type of space they would need and what is available in Arlington.

They’ll look at the cost of planning, construction and materials, and consider the likelihood that their water park could actually make money in the long run.

Teachers and tour guides will explain water quality and sanitation along with the affordability and sustainability of different pumps, cleaning systems and water recycling mechanisms.

By the end of the week, each group of students is expected to present a project proposal in front of a panel of city staff, local leaders and business managers who can critique their work.

There’s been a push to add more science, technology, engineering and math content to public schools for years, Maner said.

Recently, the focus has shifted to not just adding lessons, but also integrating STEM into projects that cross classroom boundaries and show students how different skills blend together in the working world.

For last year’s pilot program, students learned about energy options like solar, wind and geothermal power, then designed individual projects meant to decrease the energy consumption of the school district. Ideas included geothermal heat in buildings and solar-powered buses, Conley said.

“Kids’ comments last year were that they enjoyed it but it needed to be longer,” she said. “And whenever kids want to go to school longer, you know you’re onto something.”

If this summer’s project goes well, it will be used as the foundation for a project-based STEM lesson during the school year, Maner said.

“It’s really an exciting opportunity,” she said. “It’s the first of its kind here, and it’s something kids can really take advantage of.”

Last year’s Summer STEM program was paid for by the district. This year, students will be asked to pay $200 to cover space, supplies, staffing and field trips, Conley said. Trips include tours of water parks, water treatment plants, water pumping stations, fish ladders, dams and conservation areas.

The STEM program is one of a number of education options listed in the Arlington School District’s summer catalog, mailed to families and available at the district office, Conley said.

The popular NeoBots Robotics camps are back this year. A new “bookmobile” is starting this summer and will stop by neighborhoods around the city every Wednesday so students can check out reading materials. Programs for bilingual students, early literacy and high schoolers who need to make up credits for graduation also are available this summer.

To learn more or sign up for a summer program, visit www.asd.wednet.edu.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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