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.”