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Summer is usually a time when children are out of a school but 15 students at Sims Middle School spent part of their summer gaining skills that they will be able to use as adults.
In June, the Union County School District launched a summer pilot program focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) criteria. The program began Monday, June 12 and ran for four weeks through this past Tuesday (July 4). The program served 15 rising seventh and eighth grade students at Sims Middle School who had been identified by their teachers as needing additional instruction in math and science to keep them at grade level.
During those four weeks, the students taking part in the program spent two days each week using science and math skills to build robots. The other two days were for educational activities, including workshops about nutrition and exercise, soft skills instruction, presentations about workforce opportunities in the STEM fields, and field trips touring local companies which offer jobs in the STEM fields.
Those field trips took them to local companies like Santuc Precision and Timken; USC Union and the Union Campus of Spartanburg Community College; the Union County Carnegie Library, the Town of Carlisle, and the Union County Airport. During those field trips the students learned about the educational resources available to them and the community, the importance of staying in school and getting their educations, and the role robots play in the workplace of the 21st century and how the science and math they study in school can enable them to get jobs working with those robots, jobs that pay well.
On Thursday, those students graduated from the program during a ceremony which began with them putting the robots they’ve built over the summer through their paces for their parents, educators, program sponsors, and others who were present for the event. The robots included one humanoid robot that could move and recognize colors; another that, when it detects motion, could fire a small projectile at it; a “robo-gator,” a robotic alligator that could snap its jaws; wheeled robots that could move back and forward; and WeDo and Mindstorm robots.
The program was taught by science teachers Melissa Gregory and Megan Wyatt who said the students not only learned about building robots, but also gained skills in other areas that will serve them well in school and beyond.
“They’ve learned a lot of skills they’re going to be able to use later on in life and outside of school,” Gregory said Thursday. “They learned to work as a team, how to compromise, how to cooperate.”
They said the students also learned about the job opportunities that await them and how what they learn in the classroom can help them take advantage of those opportunities.
“They also learned about numerous job opportunities in their community,” Wyatt said Thursday. “They learned how math and science is used in those jobs.”
Sims Principal Eric Childers was one of the speakers at Thursday’s graduation and expressed satisfaction with what the program and the students had achieved and what be believes the students will continue to achieve.
“We started with a goal of having 20 students participate, but ended with about 15 who attended,” Childers said during the ceremony. “If we inspired even one of them to pursue a career in STEM it was worth it.
“I’m very proud of the way these students have represented Sims and Union County this summer,” he said. “I expect great things from them in the future.”
The future of the students and the future of Union County was very much at the heart of the program.
One those attending Thursday’s ceremony was Cherie Pressley, Regional Workforce Advisor for the SC Department of Commerce, who provided financial support for the program, its development and operation. She said the funding was designed to help enable the program provide students in the Union County with the same opportunities for STEM training that students in other counties have.
“Students in Union County needed some summer STEM enrichment,” Pressley said. “Union County needed some support and we wanted to provide them with the same opportunities from other areas.
“The goal is for these students to be employable and to attract companies to Union County with a workforce that can meet their needs,” she said. “These kids are getting some experience they would not have gotten to do otherwise.”
In addition to the SC Department of Commerce, the program was sponsored by Union County, the City of Union, Santuc Precision, USC Union, Wells Fargo Bank, the Upstate Workforce Board, and the Union Community Foundation.
During the ceremony, Union Community Foundation Chairman Katherine Pendergrass presented Upstate Workforce Board Executive Director Ann Angermeier with a check for $500 to help cover the costs of the program. Angermeier thanked the foundation and the other sponsors whose support she said helped pay for the materials the students used to build the robots they made, transportation too and from Sims and on field trips, the teachers who taught the program, meals, and other costs.
Looking back at the program, Angermeier said one of the great moments for her came when the teachers said they could see a big difference in the children from the day they started. She said plans are to track the children through the upcoming school year to measure the impact the program has on their performance in school.
Also participating in the graduation ceremony was Union County School District Superintendent Dr. William Roach who spoke about the importance of the program and the district’s plans to continue it.
“We see a need in our nation, students aren’t really getting involved in math and science,” Road said. “Anything we can do to push our kids to get involved in those areas we’re going to do.”
Roach said the district is looking at continuing the program next summer, a move he said that is welcomed by the students who participated in it this year.
“The ones (students) I spoke to last week in the classes, most all of them enjoyed it, they wanted it to last longer,” Roach said. “They really wanted to do more of the hands-on stuff and that’s why they wanted it to last longer.
“W’re already looking to next year,” he said. “We’re going to be starting earlier to get it all in place for next year.”