STEAM 656 sparks students' creativity

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For over 200 elementary school students who attend Faribault Public Schools, 3 o’clock doesn’t mean it’s time to get on the bus or walk home. For those students, 3 o’clock means it’s time to engage their minds in creative thinking and problem solving by participating in the after-school STEAM 656 program.

STEAM 656, a collaboration between Community Education, the curriculum department and the Area Learning Center, has offered summer and after-school education programming that revolves around science, technology, engineering, art and math to Faribault students for the last six years. Each elementary school ran its own after-school programming until last year when the Community School hired Eric Sandberg as the STEAM 656 Coordinator. Sandberg, who had previously served as youth development coordinator, has seen many benefits for students who participate in after-school STEAM 656 since he began running the program last year.

“One piece is the academic piece, to increase the students’ math and writing skills and help them improve,” he said. “Another piece is that STEAM provides enrichment opportunities where students can learn concepts through doing things interactively. The third thing is that we really try to foster students’ creativity and prepare them for the 21st-century world.”

Students in grades 1-through-5 fill 10 elementary classrooms across the district, three each at Lincoln Elementary and Roosevelt Elementary, and four at Jefferson Elementary. Each class is taught by a licensed teacher. Students must meet one of 12 qualifiers to participate in after-school STEAM, two of the most common being that they have been targeted for additional academic support or they’re an English language learner, according to Sandberg.

Once students are signed up for STEAM, the next step is sparking their interest. The curriculum department hopes to have accomplished that by making this year’s themes Outer Space and NASA. Students have participated in projects involving magnets and done other science experiments on the effects of gravity, built satellites and rockets, and looked at space suits, meteorites, photographs, and other artifacts.

“The curriculum department really took it and ran with it. They created some really engaging lessons,” Sandberg said. “It’s something that’s cool and relatable and the kids love it.”

One of Sandberg’s goals for his second year was to get after-school STEAM started at the middle school. The program began on Dec. 11 with about 20 students participating.

“We hope it has the same benefits for the middle school students as it does for the elementary students,” Sandberg said. “More after-school, quality programming can only lead to more student success.”

In addition to helping students achieve academic success, Sandberg hopes after-school STEAM helps students feel supported by the school community.

“We’re providing another opportunity for a caring adult to be in students’ lives and for students to develop a relationship with somebody that cares about them for an extra hour, which is pretty cool,” Sandberg said.

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