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STEM Accelerator: A Gateway into STEM

COVID-19 has devastated our nation and world with extreme loss and an ongoing economic crisis. The pandemic has also exacerbated the struggle of our education system to meet the high demands of the business sector. Science, technology, engineering, art design, and math (STEAM) skills are in high demand in businesses, as are skills such as teamwork, critical thinking, and a willingness to learn from failure while celebrating success. Mystic Aquarium has worked to bolster all these skills in vulnerable youth for over a decade through a variety of mentoring and STEM-based programs. This youth development work aligns with the organization’s mission to care for and protect our ocean planet by exposing youth to opportunities in the environmental science fields and giving them access to role models and authentic experiences in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Over the years, Mystic Aquarium has designed a variety of STEM-focused programs that can be implemented in afterschool, summer learning, and school-based settings. The Aquarium’s STEM Accelerator program combats the learning loss experienced by youth due to COVID-19 while also giving them real-life STEM experiences and helping them to develop skills that are in high demand by the business sector. The three-volume, hands-on, turn-key STEM Accelerator curriculum introduces youth to a wide range of STEM topics and can be facilitated by formal and informal educators.

This past summer, the Aquarium was awarded an AccelerateCT Innovation Grant, which enabled 10 Boys & Girls Club sites in Connecticut to implement the STEM Accelerator program with youth attending the Clubs in person during the summer. Although the task was daunting, the Boys & Girls Clubs met all the challenges of reintroducing youth back to in-person instruction after a year of virtual schooling. All the implementation sites agreed that STEM Accelerator helped promote social emotional growth in participating youth via the use of teambuilding and STEM-based, hands-on activities in small groups. The Boys & Girls Clubs couldn’t be happier with STEM Accelerator. One staff member from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford noted that, “The STEM Accelerator program works. The program got kids excited about learning and they want to go back to school to learn more.” Another staff member commented that, “STEM Accelerator helps youth connect with their peers and was very engaging.”

STEM Accelerator is not restricted to implementation at Boys & Girls Clubs. Currently, Rhode Island STEM Advantage — an initiative to promote informal STEM education in communities across the Ocean State — is also utilizing STEM Accelerator at several sites. The STEM Advantage network of sites includes school-based after-school programs, libraries, and other youth-serving organizations. Two additional Rhode Island school districts — the Learning Community and Newport Public Schools — have also been involved in the STEM Accelerator program. Preliminary feedback from all these users indicate that the program’s ease of use has been essential, as educators have been consumed with preparing for safe in-person instruction and have had little time to devote to developing new programs or shopping for supplies. All STEM Accelerator kits include all materials needed to conduct the hands-on activities, and all supplies are easily sanitized and reusable — both especially welcome features for educators this fall.

Schools love STEM Accelerator because it prepares youth for learning in a fun, safe way. Informal educators love STEM Accelerator because it combines social emotional growth opportunities with academic enrichment and exposes youth to a wide variety of STEM topics and job opportunities. Businesses love STEM Accelerator because it is preparing youth for STEM careers and fostering knowledge about career pathways. We at Mystic Aquarium love STEM Accelerator because it is cultivating an interest in environmental science and other STEM fields among youth, encouraging them to become stewards of their local land and water, and inspiring them to care for and protect our ocean planet. On National STEM/STEAM Day 2021, we celebrate STEM Accelerator — a gateway into a lifetime of STEM opportunities for our local youth.

Interested in learning more about STEM Accelerator? Click here.

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