Last spring semester, local nonprofit organization, WordPlay, instituted a new program to help broaden their academic reach. Known for their mission to help children with literacy and creative expression, WordPlay introduced their STEM Scholars Program in February of this year. From the beginning, the curriculum was designed with a focus on sustainability and responsible stewardship of our environment through the STEM fields.
"Literacy spans all subjects," explains WordPlay co-founder and Executive Director Libby Hunter. "We had a significant number of volunteer tutors who are professionals in the STEM fields -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Math -- and began to form the idea of a pilot project that could tap their professional experience and passion for for the benefit of our students." With one semester under their belts, the program continued again this fall after a very successful experience in the spring. Of the program goals, continues Hunter, "STEM Scholars provides hands-on, kinesthetic learning and disciplinary literacy for students who are traditionally under- represented in these fields - children from low-income families, minorities and girls."
"It's not so much about teaching science basics or anything you can Google. It's about the
process," said Curtis Maples, Coordinator for the STEM Scholars program. "The whole idea of the program is to foster scientific literacy and critical thinking among kids, get them using experimentation and hands-on activities to get the ball rolling in terms of how they think about the world."
Maples said STEM education in the past few decades has fallen behind in the United States and this program is specifically designed to target those areas essential to true scientific literacy. No stranger to working with at-risk children in the sciences, Maples - himself a first-generation college graduate with a master's degree in Engineering - has been instrumental as a mentor with Against the Grain Scholars. He also leads a science and math group for children at the Seven Hills Center in the West End, and currently sits on their board.
"The biggest advantage for a program like this, is that it provides supplementary education, in terms of scientific literacy, that the schools don't," Maples said. "With the program, we cover anything from current events to business and art and tie it all together with science. On top of that, we'll provide students who are historically under-represented in the STEM fields with mentor-ship and hands-on activities."
The bi-weekly program, which happens every other Saturday, is geared toward junior and senior high school students and engages them in hands-on experience that teaches critical thinking skills, inquiry-based learning and disciplinary literacy. For example, students involved in the program will work on science projects ranging from thermodynamics to microbiology.
The structured 15-week program was given a significant boost for the 2014-15 academic year by generous funding from the Procter and Gamble Foundation and is expected to expand its reach the following year.
At the same time it launched STEM Scholars, WordPlay also formed a partnership with fellow newcomers to the local nonprofit scene, Against the Grain Scholars, founded by former middle school teacher at St. Francis Seraph, Michael Farrell, Jr. AGTS is comprised of eight high school students who specialize in the STEM curriculum. An ATG Scholar is defined as an "at-risk student who has proven, and continues to prove, their determination to excel above the odds by regularly attending school, doing their homework and respecting others." The AGTScholars make up half the students in STEM Scholars, and serve as near-peer mentors to the younger students.
Under the leadership of Coordinator Curtis Maples, the STEM program is supported by a team of local professionals and educators from the WordPlay and Against the Grain Scholars volunteer corps. The program meets on the second and fourth Saturday of each month from 2 to 4 pm. There are limited spaces open for new students, please contact 513-541- 0930 or email
firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
By Bryan Shupe, UC Journalism intern for WordPlay