Science Museum of Minnesota and St. Paul City School partner for STEM distance learning
The COVID-19 health crisis and its impact on our homes, work, and families is responsible for a generation-defining time of fear and anxiety. Very little is like it was a year ago, and the stress of this period will be felt and explored for years to come.
The pandemic experience, however, varies significantly along the lines of the variety of privilege we all have access to. Many in our own community are dealing with the effects of the pandemic in especially profound ways as the virus compounds existing economic, health, and education disparities in ways that make a difficult time in history even harder.
Problems and a promising solution
The Science Museum is a longtime partner of St. Paul City School, a public charter school that serves students in preschool through grade 12, 90 percent of whom qualify for free/reduced lunch. Many of its students face significant challenges when it comes to distance learning, including lack of access to healthy food, unreliable internet service, and family members working outside of the home and unable to provide support to keep students engaged with their virtual learning.
With the space, the staff, and the expertise to help these students succeed amid the challenges of distance learning, the Science Museum of Minnesota partnered with St. Paul City School to act as a learning hub that provides equitable access during the pandemic: the Full STEM Ahead program.
Full STEM Ahead
St. Paul City Primary School teachers and staff identified 28 students grades 2-8 who were in greatest need of reliable internet access and/or a safe space to learn. From 8:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., Monday through Thursday, these students join instructors at the Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center (KAYSC) to complete their school day in a caring, STEM-centered learning environment.
The program began in October and is currently set to continue through the end of the school year in June. St. Paul City Primary School provides Chromebooks and online instruction, and in turn the Science Museum provides KAYSC Design Team instructors to assist with supervision, technology, and student engagement to help students complete their daily distance learning activities.
The goal of the Full STEM Ahead program is to help negate issues on many different levels that contribute to disparities brought on by inequitable access to resources. The program’s educators, KAYSC Design Team Instructors, are uniquely suited to the project because of their innovative approach to education, their diverse experiences and backgrounds, and their ability to offer an open view of education through a social justice lens.
“I cannot state clearly enough how perfectly [this partnership] meets a very real need that we have,” said Justin Tiarks, principal of St. Paul City School. “They are solving the barrier of internet access. They are solving the barrier of structure and adult support. They are offering to remove a stress burden from the shoulders of some of our most precious families that we were not able to remove without them.”
Transportation to and from the museum is provided for students, as well as breakfast, a box lunch, courtesy of St. Paul City School, and snacks and indoor/outdoor physical and mental health breaks facilitated by KAYSC Design Team instructors. Students also complete an end-of-the-day facilitated STEM activity that reflects the KAYSC’s mission to use STEM as a tool to pursue social justice and dismantle inequitable systems. In this way, students gain an understanding of their own STEM identities and future educational/career opportunities through fun and creative hands-on STEM activities.
“Science and education that centers equity is fundamental to SMM’s mission,” said Vikki Getchell, Director, Center for Equity Systems Change at the Science Museum of Minnesota. “Providing this platform for students to succeed academically while gaining an understanding of their own STEM identities aligns perfectly with the Science Museum’s mission, while at the same time providing a fun and exciting experience filled with creative opportunity for a group of up-and-coming educators.”
With changing COVID rates and the government guidance responding to them, Full STEM Ahead remains flexible. During the pauses in in-person learning, Full STEM Ahead instructors have continued to communicate with SPCS teachers while providing virtual support and tutoring for students. Instructors continue to develop curriculum for a range of grades, and evolve their COVID safety plans and training as needed.
Regardless of in-person or online needs, the program will continue to meet students’ needs through the school year and, with distance learning looking like the norm for the foreseeable future, the Full STEM Ahead program could potentially expand in the coming months.
To keep up with educational efforts at the Science Museum, subscribe to our educator newsletter here; to learn more about the work done by the KAYSC, visit www.smm.org/kaysc.
Thank you to our generous sponsors and donors for making this work possible; 3M, PNC Bank, Catherine Simpson, Children's Defense Fund, Alison Rempel Brown and Owen Brown, UnitedHealth Group, Bio-Techne, TKDA, Sarah and David Lilja, Alicia and Bryan Phillips, Melissa and Robert Leick, Jon and Anne Gotte, Andersen Corporation, Ecolab Foundation, Judy and Daniel Titcomb, Eric and Lisa Engh, Jill and Matt Walker, Paul and Carey Kasbohm, Brad and Holly Boehne, Holly Morris and Renee Holoien, Jessica Hellmann and Larry LaTarte, and Lisa and Jay Schlosser.