High schoolers teach STEAM lessons

STEAM ENGINEERS Students at Luigi Aprea Elementary School enjoy working on their projects after a lesson given to them during the STEAM4Students afterschool program.

A self-motivated group of local high school students, calling themselves “STEAM4Students,” has been teaching afterschool lessons for the last three years at various Gilroy elementary schools in a joint effort to improve early childhood development.

Co-director Michal Stolarski said the student-created and student-run organization is “dedicated to helping kids around Gilroy receive a better education.” Stolarski is a student at Dr. TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy who joined the organization last year.

With currently about a dozen members, the group—founded in 2016 by Gilroy Unified School District alumni Tranavi Kethanavoyina and Cassandra Maciel—is looking to expand its reach and bring in more high school-aged student volunteers who want to be part of their movement. Those interested can sign up via steam4students.weebly.com.

“It’s really been amazing,” said Stolarski, who heads the 2019 team with fellow GECA student and co-director Destiny Torres. “I think my favorite part is when (the students) ask questions and want to learn more, and they are curious. You get the feeling that they really grasp the concepts. You can see it in their eyes.”

STEAM4Students, which has student volunteers from Gilroy High School and GECA, currently has afterschool programs in Las Animas, Glenview, Luigi Aprea and Rutger elementary schools.

“It operates a little differently at each school,” Stolarski said. “Part of the goal of the program is our target audience is underprivileged kids. We do that through giving all kids an equal chance to sign up. A lot of families don’t have money to put their kids through STEAM programs or science camps. This is completely free.”

Stolarski added signups can be done either through a raffle system with students opting to put their names in or by teachers recommending particular students for the afterschool program.

“We usually do experiments and (single) day activities,” Stolarski explained. “We give a little lesson on a concept, talk about it and then do an experiment. If we’re talking about DNA, we teach them biology and then do an experiment like extracting DNA from bananas.”

The group also brings real-life issues into the curriculum. One activity they built houses out of mud and raw organic materials during a lesson on third-world countries.

“We try to teach them what they can do as the next generation of kids who can change the world,” Stolarski said. “We’re always trying to encourage them to change the world when they get older.”

The afterschool program runs during the school year, from September to April. They work with different liaisons at each school site to help make STEAM4Students a reality for their students.

“It’s great when you realize that you’ve actually made a difference in their lives,” Stolarski said. “Part of teaching them is not just teaching, but being a big sister sometimes, so they know they can talk to us about anything that’s going on in their lives.”