Success ‘STEM’s from specialized summer school
Aug 22, 2019 05:26PM
● By Jet Burnham
Building Bloxel video games is part work, part fun. (Stacy Pierce/Jordan PREP)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
The winning water bottle rocket at Utah Valley University’s Sci-tech competition, created by two West Jordan teens, blasted ahead of the competition.
“They basically had them all in shock when theirs went over the fence,” said Christopher Capitan, engineering and physics teacher at Jordan PREP where the top winners, Selena Morales-Martinez and Diara Camacho, have spent their last two summers.
Jordan PREP, a three-year summer program, provides middle school students experience in problem-solving, logic, physics and the engineering skills needed to create a winning rocket design two years in a row. Selena and Diara also took third place in last year’s competition as seventh graders.
“When I was younger, I didn't really want to go into the STEM field because it seemed too complicated and too complex,” Selena said. “And then when I got into this program, my mind was opened up. I learned that STEM isn't really that hard, you just got to get into it and get into the groove.”
Jordan PREP, housed at Salt Lake Community College Jordan Campus and funded by Boeing, serves students who are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math fields. Of the nearly 100 participants, 70% are from low-income homes, 70% have parents who didn’t go to college, over 50% are girls and 50 % are minorities.
Stacy Pierce, director of Jordan PREP, said through the program, these kids who don’t normally get a lot of academic support, get the skills and foundation to prepare them for advanced academic classes and careers.
“The kids go back to school, and instead of losing their skills in the summer, they're elevating their skills,” said Pierce. “And so they're ready to take college preparatory classes. That's the goal—that they're ready to take those classes and be successful.”
The program keeps the students busy for six weeks of their summer with STEM classes, experimenting with tech toys and learning about a variety of careers from guest speakers. Weekly field trips show students the behind-the-scenes workings at local businesses such as VPI and Merit Medical.
Austin Poitras, a first-year participant, said she enjoyed the field trips to Loveland Aquarium and Antelope Island because she is interested in biology.
Pierce arranges field trips and speakers according to students’ interests.
“Last year, I told her that I wanted to be a lawyer,” Selena said. “The next week, she brought in a lawyer for a guest speaker.”
Other guest speakers have included an electrical engineer, entrepreneur, forensic scientist, astrologist, author and banker.
“Any time a kid mentions an interest, I try and make it happen,” said Pierce.
Jordan PREP’s curriculum includes a lot of fun, hands-on activities and building and design competitions, but the classes in physics, engineering, problem-solving and logic are challenging.
“These are 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds taking logic, which is a college math class that’s only for math majors,” Pierce said. She said the retention rate has been surprising for students who are required to commit to six hours a day, five days a week for six weeks of their summer break three years in a row, with only three absences allowed each year.
Austin’s family planned their summer vacation around the program, and she only visited her dad once during the summer instead of twice, but she believes it was worth it to participate in the program.
“I love being challenged, and I love math and science,” she said. “When I'm not being challenged, I get really bored.”
Life lessons are also part of the program. Vulnerability, courage, creativity and curiosity are emphasized, and students are encouraged to try hard things and to ask questions.
“We talk about resilience and grit 24/7 with this program because it's hard. It's really, really hard,” said Pierce.
Diara Camacho, an eighth-grader at Joel P Jensen Middle School, said the program has given her confidence and drive to get through difficult experiences in her life.
“I get stressed almost every day,” Diara said. “And I’ve learned to just keep going.”
Jordan PREP began two years ago an initial group of 25 students. This year, those students advanced as a new group of incoming seventh graders were accepted into the program. Next year, the initial group will complete the final year of the program with classes in computer science, statistics and technical writing.