Yuma County schools receive portion of STEM funds
By Sarah Womer
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Almost 70 schools in Arizona, including four from Yuma County, recently benefited from over $50,000 in funding distributed to new and existing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) clubs around the state.
Thanks to seed funding from JPMorgan Chase, Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) awarded schools a minimum of $750 to start or continue with a STEM club and also purchase resources and supplies. Yuma County schools receiving funding include Arizona Desert, Cesar Chavez, Rancho Viejo and Valley Horizon elementary schools.
SFAz, a nonprofit public-private partnership that makes investments to improve academic performance in STEM subjects, will be requiring that the schools hold meetings for their clubs at least two times per month and participate in the STEM Club Network that includes a yearly evaluation process.
Those running the clubs were also recently required to attend a one-day training over the summer to learn about the guidelines of starting a STEM club, as well as launch the club with a minimum of five members by Sept. 15 and continue for the duration of the school year.
“We are proud to partner with JPMorgan Chase to further STEM education in Arizona,” said William C. Harris, president and CEO of SFAz. “With 20 percent of jobs in the U.S. requiring high knowledge in at least one STEM field, the creation of new STEM clubs and the expansion of existing ones are critical steps toward filling the current and future skills gap with a qualified workforce.”
Maria Camacho, Cesar Chavez Elementary School’s 21st Century Coordinator, said that in addition to the teacher training, their campus also decided to use the funds to purchase two tablets for instruction in their afterschool Junior Sciences Club targeted at fourth-grade students.
In addition to helping with interactive lessons, the tablets will also allow the 25 students in the program to utilize videos and science websites.
“We want to target students who are struggling, that are currently receiving tutoring… so that we get them hooked into science and they can see what they can become,” said Camacho, noting that they’re trying to also involve more girls in the program as their club last year, funded by a 21st Century grant, mostly included boys.
Vicki Peterson, a science teacher at Rancho Viejo, said that the funds will allow their school to further what they are already offering for students in terms of STEM education.
“This is a great deal of money to use for my students to have this opportunity,” she said. “I am thrilled and appreciative to have the support of Science Foundation Arizona.”
The funds will go toward engaging, hands-on supplies for activities, with no grades attached.
Because she had a large amount of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students interested in the club, she’s allowing students to participate in groups, taking turns in the club for different parts of the year.
Peterson already runs another Science Club after school for the second and third quarter of school.
Valley Horizon principal Mike Hoffman stated that their First Lego League (FLL) club also benefited from the funding, allowing the group of 20 fifth- and sixth-grade students to register for a tournament and receive necessary materials.
“We are very grateful for the donation,” he said. “We encourage parents and community members to further support our efforts in STEM education through the AZ Tax Credit program for extracurricular activities.”
In addition to the four schools from Yuma County that received the seed funding, the 63 other schools from Arizona included: three from Coconino County, two from Gila County, 29 from Maricopa County, three from Mohave County, 18 from Pima County, three from Pinal County, one from Santa Cruz County and four from Yavapai County.
While the application process for 2013 is closed, funds may be offered again to new and existing STEM clubs at public schools in Arizona in the future. For more information, visit http://stemclubguide.sfaz.org and click on the “STEM Clubs Network” tab.