Author Archives : Alyce Pearce

STEM Club Kids Culminate Year with Confidence and Curiosity

When fifth grader Keller Wills showed up for her usual Camp Fire club meeting last fall at Bear Creek Elementary, she didn’t realize her whole outlook on science was about to change.

Part of a grant-funded STEM program partnership with Camp Fire Central Oregon and High Desert Museum, her club had evolved into the Bear Creek STEM Adventure Club, one of four out-of-school programs focused on giving third through fifth grade kids learning experiences in science, technology, engineering and math content.

STEM students from four Bend elementary schools – Juniper, Jewell, Silver Rail and Bear Creek – had a special chance to share and celebrate their successes and year with a culmination evening family dinner at High Desert Museum recently, where they were recognized for their efforts, ideas and projects.

“I liked that we learned new things that we hadn’t learned about. It gave us a big step up for things we were about to learn,” Wills stated confidently–and she should: Wills just learned this spring that she earned the highest score of her class on her state Science test. She attributed her success largely to her STEM club.

“She came home and was really proud of herself,” said Wills’ mother. “She said she didn’t think she would have scored as well without the STEM camps because they didn’t learn that much in school…all of it came from STEM club.”

Keller said engineering was her favorite. “I loved building things with a lot of different materials– like we got to build robots. This was my first time getting to build things with THIS kind of stuff. It actually made me succeed on a science test. Half the things we learned in STEM, were on the test. Now, it feels like I can do it and I’ve advanced in it more.”

“Camp Fire and The High Desert Museum took on this project with hopes to bring creative and challenging opportunities to Central Oregon youth in an after-school setting, said Mary Bowker, Camp Fire Central Oregon Program Director. “We focused on students as doers and designers so they could really bolster their self-confidence in STEM topics. We really tried hard to allow the students freedom to explore their own ideas, find success in their designs, and evaluate their failures.”

Parents agreed that the STEM-focused clubs offered kids a chance to gain confidence both socially and academically.

“I can’t tell you how much this program has helped my family and my kids,” Niko Creane’s father, Sean, shared.

“Our son loves building,” Niko’s mother continued. “He’s super into mechanical stuff, but he struggled with math, and it’s been a huge deterrent to his confidence to enter the career he’s interested in. After being in the STEM program this year, he says without hesitation ‘I’m going to be an engineer.’ and that’s what he’s always wanted to be since he was little. He recently told a woman, ‘I’m going to work for the National Institute for Insurance Safety testing vehicles.’ You hear kids say I want to be a dancer, or an artist, but he has the reality to underpin that goal. He sees what goes into the end product. It’s not just a nebulous dream.”

For Baird Lemmon, a TAG student from Juniper Elementary who sought out the chance to learn more about STEM, it turns out the club offers something else kids need, too.

”I felt nervous for my first day, but since I got along with my group, I kind of felt confident in myself. I was nervous about meeting new people and now I feel connected to them at school.”

Creane’s parents added, “It’s helped our son’s self-esteem. STEM Adventure Club gave Niko an opportunity to be friends with a different, diverse group of people. Plus, this has built his confidence and curiosity – the most sacred thing in childhood.”

“It was really great to watch the kids in this program change their mindset from one of lack of interest in science to one of confidence and identity around science,” said Bowker. “I saw a big shift in how kids view themselves and their abilities around their ability to design and build, and the creative process in general of science, technology, engineering and math.”

This year’s program was driven by a grant funded by the Oregon Department of Education, in partnership with Oregon State University and the Central Oregon STEM Hub. Thomas Arand, the STEM Beyond School regional coordinator said the hope is that opportunities of this nature will continue in the future.

“We are hopeful that this year is just the beginning of increased opportunities for high quality, student-driven STEM learning in Central Oregon,” said Arand. “Seeing and hearing from the students and families about what STEM Adventure Club has meant to them has been very inspiring.”

“This grant opportunity was invaluable for many reasons,” Bowker continued. “Through extra funding, we were able to develop community partnerships, and plan to continue that trajectory. I hope to bring more opportunities for STEM education to Camp Fire youth in the next school year, whether we are funded again or not. Of course, this funding allows us to delve deeper and serve a broader audience.”

Unplug the Family and Get Outside: Research Shows the Huge Benefits of Nature, Nurturing and Free Play

Camp Fire Central Oregon SummerKids Camp Director Casey Davis

We know the scene all too well: It’s just after school, and after a frazzled day of work, multi-tasking and activity shuttling, everyone breathes a sigh of relief as the school packs get dumped at the door and the kids instinctively head to play Minecraft or watch TV. In today’s frenetic world, it’s easy for kids – and parents – to slip into inside activities…and stay there.

Visceral video games. Prolific technology. Narrow school curriculums that ditch arts and science for test scores: Just like the vanishing of the bees, fingers are pointing to these trends as the culprits of the collapse of the culture of free play, connection to nature and a rise in ADHD and other health issues in kids. Even Bend kids, growing up with unparalleled outdoor opportunities aren’t exempt from the disturbing national statistics of childhood obesity, with 21% of 9th graders overweight or at risk for obesity in Deschutes County. (Oregon Health Teen Survey (OHT), 2007 and 2008)

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, coined the concept “Nature Deficit Disorder” as a call to action to reverse the impacts today’s modern age is having on kids. Under ‘virtual house arrest’, Louv states, they need creative, outdoor play more than ever: Childhood health issues have been shown to be linked with less time outside, so it follows that many studies have shown encouraging evidence that playing outside, unstructured play and nurturing environments can impact youth significantly, including improving their resilience (McArdle, Harrison (2013) and ability to self-direct. (Barker, Semenov, et. al., (2014).

Parents need not panic! Thankfully, there are tons of local resources and simple ways to help kids reconnect with nature and lead a healthy lifestyle with a healthy dose of exploring outdoors. No need to launch a major expedition to infinity and beyond to be physically active and find nature. Thanks to our local youth programs, parks and good old Mother Nature herself, there are plenty of opportunities and activities your family can plug into to encourage a more natural, outside-driven and healthy lifestyle, right outside your door.

Easy Ways for Families to Turn Off Technology and Tune In

  1. Build a Fort…and You Can’t Do Your Homework Until You Do! Create a routine where kids have to be outside for a minimum of 20 minutes a day.
  2. Nature-spotting: Pack a picnic, pick a natural setting and hang out. Skip rocks. Go nature-spotting on bikes. Try Riverbend Park, the Deschutes Canal, Shevlin Park, Drake Park and Pilot Butte. Keep a family log of the birds, insects and animals you find.
  3. Not All Who Wander Are Lost: Naturehoods Children’s Forest has started “Naturehoods” at local parks and natural spaces that don’t require driving. (Check out Ponderosa Park’s     Kid-Created Interpretive Trail!) Start your own NatureHood project at your nearby park or abandoned lot near your house. Show kids how to safely bike or walk to them –independently!
  4. Plant a Seed. At home, all you need is a flower pot and a few seeds for homegrown horticulture and an up-close encounter with nature at work. For inspiration, check out Hollinshead Community Garden where families can adopt their own garden plot!
  5. Charades, anyone? Designate family movie night. It may be painful at first, but try to pare back screen time and carve out more connecting time by choosing one night per weekend for media.


Last Child In The Woods: Saving Our Kids from Nature Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv, 2005