STEM Focus of After-school Clubs

Gale Horton Gay | 9/19/2012, 12:35 p.m.

For many middle school students Saturday is a day to "veg out" and focus on carefree pursuits. But for scores of students who attend one middle school in Upper Marlboro, last Saturday was a day to discover a wealth of activities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) that could be gateways to their futures.

Scores of children and parents turned out for the kickoff of the Patriots Technology Training Center's Back-to-School event at Kettering Middle School on September 15. While the center has been offering after-school STEM activities for 15 years, this is the first time that Kettering has been a host school where some club meetings will be held.

"I am very excited," said Amin Salaam, principal at Kettering. "STEM is very important to us at Kettering Middle School." He said the clubs and activities are a "wonderful complement" to what we are doing, adding that new classes such as pre-engineering have been included in the curriculum this year.

Students and parents wandered through more than a dozen booths and exhibits, trying to figure out which ones might be a good fit.

Among the choices: cyber security, video gaming, robotics, biomedical, solar system, flight simulation, computer building, science bowl, underwater submarine, National Society of Black Engineers Junior Chapter and more. Some are clubs; others are competitions and workshops. For example, there's a video gaming conference in December at Prince George's Community College, and teams are currently being recruited through Patriots Technology Training Center to compete. Each team will develop a video game, which will be judged by gaming professionals.

The video gaming exhibit, where a bank of video game consoles were stationed, drew a large crowd of adolescent boys.

Dami Adewunmi, 11, a student at Kettering who wants to pursue a medical career, was sure the biomedical club fit her to a tee. But that didn't prevent her from stopping by the flight simulation exhibit and trying her hand at the controls.

"It was really, really fun," she said after she crash landed.

Thurman Jones Jr., president of Patriots Technology Training Center, said the clubs and competitions provide students with exposure to STEM fields and professionals working in those fields. He said he has witnessed former club members who go to college, get jobs in their areas of interest and return to share their experiences with students. There are about 500 Patriots' members, however, about 1,500 young lives have been touched, he said.

Marcus Campbell, 11, of Temple Hills appeared mesmerized by the remote-controlled moving creations at the robotics exhibit. Marcus, who wants to be engineer when he gets older, said he was interested in the Lego and robotics clubs.

Timothy Coker, who accompanied his 12-year-old son, said he liked the variety of the clubs and activities, however, added that participation should be more affordable. Participation in the program is open to young people in the fifth through 12th grades with a $50 annual membership.

Gloria Shivers, program director for the Patriots, said that providing "real-life" experiences is one of the goals of the program. "We definitely give them what we call the road map to technology," said Shivers.

Salaam told the audience that developing skills and knowledge in STEM can lead to a promising future. The principal said that many future opportunities will be in STEM. "... Students need to be prepared, grounded in STEM. This is important," he said.