Janet Moore’s 11-year-old son Evan suffers from autism spectrum disorder. He joined about fifteen other students for a STEAM event on August 13 at the Lancaster Community Center in Pontiac.
STEAM is an acronym for the combination of educational approaches in the fields of science, technology, art, engineering, and mathematics.
“When I was younger my mom signed us up for a lot of day camps, night camps,” Moore said. “I had this experience of being able to learn and interact with other children. I wanted him to have the same experience and it was very hard to do with COVID. He missed a lot of peer interactions.
The one-day learning session was organized by the Kids First Initiative, founded about 14 years ago by Richard Bell. A reserve police officer in Detroit with a background in criminal justice and history, Bell began infusing STEAM seven years ago as he roamed the underserved communities of Oakland County.
“If we have a smart city, a smart city is going to need smart people to design it and smart people to govern it, smart people to drive and live in it,” said Bell, who also worked as a substitute teacher in the Pontiac. schools. “So the more young people we can attract into these STEM-type careers (the better). “
He said his teaching perspective one day changed when a class of students got excited about music and using a smart board.
“That’s when a light came on for me personally and I changed my way of teaching, and my whole philosophy changed,” he said. “It’s not that the kids can’t do the job; it’s just that the way we communicated information to them was sort of outdated. We were doing the activity before the concept.
The day’s events included a themed scavenger hunt, building draw robots, creating art, and creating various chemical reactions. A drone demonstration and rocket launch were inspired by recent space trips by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson.
A nighttime show, the first in the initiative’s history, invited the community to play with glow sticks, glow-in-the-dark shirt designs and more.
The number of children varied throughout the day.
At the start of the event, five teams of children of various elementary ages were tasked with building water towers with sticks and candy. Bell said it gives kids a feel for how towers work, while showing the importance of clean water.
“We’re always trying to do programs, anything that will strengthen their skills, as well as fun activities for them to learn how they work as a team and can practice and do things individually,” said Leona Patterson, Director of Services. community. within the Lancaster Village cooperative. “The kids don’t have a hobby now – they depend on cell phones – we try to do things to encourage them to have a hobby so they can’t say, ‘I’m bored’ and wait for someone to interact with someone. “
Linda Barnes was a former teacher in the Pontiac district who was about to retire. Now she works with the Pontiac Youth Recreation program.
“I could be retired and I said, ‘I can’t do it,’” Barnes said. “Children can’t read and they can’t do math. So, I am back to work.
She said during the pandemic she looked after 26 children in the community to make sure they were attentive to Zoom calls with teachers. Events like STEM and STEAM show how their developing brains are impacted, she added.
“When I started at the recreation center, I only had a handful of children,” she said. “When you end up with 26 kids a night, that’s an achievement.”
Moore agreed, saying she wanted to give Evan the same opportunities she had.
“I want to be asked a question that has never been asked of him before so that he can think about it,” Moore said. “How is a kid supposed to know what engineering is if you never expose him to it?” It’s a good show for him, (for) his mind to grow and develop.