The 21st Century Summer STEM Academy program kicks into gear at a Linden middle school.
Officials say the program hosted 60 students for four days a week for four hours each morning, offering help with summer reading and math assignments; enrichment programs in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math; recreation programs; character education; and class trips.
The summer program, in its eighth year, is an extension of the 21st Century Community Learning Center, an after-school program that runs throughout the school year at Soehl.
“The Summer STEM Academy decreases summer learning loss and leads to academic gains by allowing students to participate in a wide range of extension activities,” said Isabella Scocozza, Soehl vice principal and director of the 21st Century program.
The program purchases all the summer reading novels for students who just finished Grades 6, 7 and 8.
“By the end of this, just about everyone will have their math packet finished, their language arts book read and their packet finished,” Scocozza said. “And they will also have participated in daily STEM challenges as an extension of the school year.”
Officials say there are two curriculums used in the STEM classes: Ozobot programmable robots that teach students computer coding; and PBS Design Squad Challenges, which use simple household items to teach students about engineering, nature and other concepts.
Students who are in the after-school program during the school year are familiar with the Ozobots, but they are always learning new coding concepts.
“There’s a whole progression and there are all different activities,” Scocozza said. “So in the summer, they’re not repeating it, they’re doing some advance work.”
In addition to Scocozza, the summer program has four teachers, four classroom aides and a guidance counselor. It is funded as part of the federal 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant Award of $425,000, and also received an additional grant called IDEA Supplemental Grant Award in the amount of $35,000 to help with the staffing, supplies and class trips for the summer program.
The extra funding allowed the program to add the rec program, where students take part in open gym, organized gym activities, table-top games, art classes such as jewelry-making and crochet, and trips to the park.
The grant also added class trips, such as golf and roller skating lessons, mini golf, and a trip to the Newark Museum, which students “loved,” Scocozza said.
“The kids and the staff said that was one of the best trips,” she said. “They were really excited. It was nice because they opened up a little bit earlier for us, so it was just us there, so they were able to do it at their own pace. And the staff is really knowledgeable.”
The format of the summer program is similar to the after-school program, which is divided into homework help, STEM enrichment, and recreation. The summer program also includes a focus on character education, led by guidance counselor Laura Pellettiere.