For fifteen years, TJ’s Middle School Tech Institute (MSTI) has opened middle schoolers’ eyes to the breadth of STEM pursuits, surprising them with what they can accomplish in just one week. With many courses taught by TJ faculty, several TJ students assisting, and topics that showcase the School’s inquiry-based approach to learning, MSTI encourages kids to consider applying to TJ and to think about careers in science, engineering, and technology.
This summer’s classes featured long-time favorites, “Intro to 3D Printing,”an introduction to Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software and 3D printing, where students design, model, and print solutions to specific problems; “Infectious Biological Outbreak,” where students work as epidemiologists, tracing outbreaks and developing techniques to control them; and “Got an App for That?” where students build apps for Android smart phones using AppInventor software; and many others.
For the first time, MSTI also included a class created, taught, and funded by a corporate sponsor. The International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) revved students’ competitive engines with its class, “Rockets, Systems, and Simulations: Becoming the Engineer’s Engineer.”
A Jack Kent Cooke Foundation “Learning through Inquiry, Fellowship, and Tutoring” (LIFT) grant brought 100 low-income middle-school students to MSTI this summer and will make the program accessible to another 100 students next year. The students will also receive TJ test-prep sessions, materials, and academic advising. The LIFT program’s goal is to at least triple the percentage of low-income students at TJ over two years. The grant of approximately $100,000 is part of $500,000 the Foundation is donating to six selective public high schools across the country as part of its commitment to provide high-achieving, low-income students with a better chance at success. Over its fifteen-year history, the Foundation has awarded $130 million in scholarships and over $80 million in grants.
“High-quality summer learning programs can spark student curiosity and passion, augment academic achievement, nurture intellectual peer support, and influence educational and career trajectories. In focus groups conducted by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, high-achieving students have consistently identified rigorous summer enrichment programs as among the most important and valuable experiences during their middle and high school years.”
Jack Kent Cooke Foundation
For the fifth year, Northrop Grumman generously donated $25,500 to provide 100 MSTI scholarships for distribution to students from under-represented minority groups. With additional scholarships underwritten by INCOSE and Washington Space Business Roundtable, both returning for their second year as sponsors, scholarships were available for over 200 students to attend MSTI free of charge.
STEMbassadors Reach Out to High-Poverty Schools
For the third year, student STEMbassadors from TJ and other area high schools helped out at a variety of elementary and middle school summer programs, including several at Title I schools (Title I is a federal grant given to the neediest schools). Some of these programs target youngsters with weaker skills who might otherwise do little reading and math over the summer. Such programs can make the difference between a child slipping further behind and staying at grade level or even pulling ahead. “Gain or maintain,” is their unofficial motto.
Lynbrook ES is located three miles from TJ on Backlick Road in Springfield. Eighty-eight percent of its largely Hispanic student body receives free or reduced-price meals, an indicator of poverty. Six student STEMbassadors provided extra hands for Lynbrook teachers this summer, including two from TJ, Helen Zhang, TJ ’15 (pictured), and Rebecca Clark-Callender, TJ ’15 (absent the day of this visit). Helen assisted Ms. Cuzzolino with her class of a dozen rising second-graders; Rebecca assisted Ms. Rowell’s class of rising first-graders and Ms. Coons’ class of rising second-graders. The STEMbassadors helped the students use classroom laptops, practice their reading aloud, work on math assignments, and assist teachers in the lunchroom (children receive breakfast and lunch each day) and on the playground. Having a high-school student in the classroom meant that the youngsters had another person to help them sound out a difficult word or explain a math concept one more time, not to mention another great role model. Asked on one of the last days of the program to comment on the experience, Helen observed, “the kids really have made a lot of progress.”