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Program introduces young students to benefits of S.T.E.M. education

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GREENFIELD — When it comes to getting students excited about learning, Rebecca Schini knows it’s best to start early.

But as a high school science teacher, she knows her options to reach children can be somewhat limited. That’s why Schini organized the S.T.E.M. Outreach Program, which seeks to introduce students in elementary grades to the high school’s programs in science, technology, engineering and math.

Once classes resume after fall break, Schini will recruit high school students to take interactive projects into G-C’s elementary schools.

Not only do the projects – ranging from water rockets to robots – allow students to see S.T.E.M. skills in action, but the interactive nature allows them to forge relationships with students already interested in pursuing careers in those fields.

“They look up to the high schoolers,” Schini said. “They’re such big role models that why not use them?”

The program, now in its second year, is funded by an Educational Enrichment Grant provided by the Greenfield Central School Foundation. Grant recipients were announced at the foundation’s recent Red Letter Gala, and funds were distributed last week, said foundation executive director Myra Bleill.

Called the “E squared” grants, these funds support programs in schools across the corporation. This year’s grants, awarded to 13 individual programs, totaled about $6,000.

Many programs, like Schini’s, run throughout the school year and depend on funding from the foundation to continue, Bleill said.

“It’s just money that’s not available easily,” she said. “The school system doesn’t have it, and the teacher shouldn’t really have to take it out of their pocket.”

This year, Schini hopes to work with students in third through sixth grade. The goal of the outreach program, she noted, is twofold. The educational merits are obvious, but there is also a second objective that requires help from students like Dana Woodworth.

The 15-year-old sophomore is one of few females in the high school’s engineering academy, and that makes her influence especially important to youngsters, Schini said.

Woodworth was one of those called upon last year to participate in the outreach program.

“We figure if the females that are involved in our academy can go out and work with these kids, then maybe, the young girls can be like, ‘You know, it’s really kind of fun,’” Schini said.

Woodworth said students looked beyond the educational aspect of the activities – such as creating a tower out of uncooked spaghetti noodles and marshmallows – and just had fun.

Woodworth said she’s gotten used to being one of few girls in her engineering classes, though she hopes she might change that by working with younger students and exposing them to new experiences.

“When I went to the high school, I didn’t know about half the clubs,” she said. “It’s important to know what’s out there for you.”

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