The mission of Northeast STEM Starter Academy (NSSA) is to introduce the marvels of technology and science (STEM) to underserved children through a cutting-edge informal educational center.
Based on recent events, NSSA considers themselves one step closer to realizing a building that will allow them to host a science and technology center enabling the engagement of all 9000 students in the Mount Vernon Public School System twice each school year. The three-hour educational tour for every student in every school of the planned facility will provide access and exposure to state-of-the-art interactive displays and exhibits, science and technology labs, tech-theater, classrooms and many other exciting elements that can change the lives of youngsters eager to learn and pursue careers within the STEM field. While the initial tour of the facility will get their attention, a collection of after-school, weekend and summer learning programs will be available to empower them to see and realize their future as doctors, scientist, engineers, technologists and astronauts.
NSSA has received support from the local school district. Dr. Kenneth Hamilton took over the Mount Vernon city school district as superintendent in August 2014, and some of the first conversations he had with colleagues were about expanding students’ access to STEM.
“As educators, the challenges that we face is that we have to prepare children for a world that we don’t even know, for jobs that are yet to even exist,” Hamilton said.
It was this thinking that helped launch a robotics, STEM-driven after-school program — which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics — for a cohort of fourth-graders in Mount Vernon earlier this school year.
“This particular program is unique because it starts early; previous programs were middle-school-level,” Hamilton said. “This is a very early exposure, so it increases the likelihood of having the skill set they need to specialize and make choices about the kinds of things they want to do.”
The program is run through the Northeast STEM Starter Academy, a Mount Vernon-based nonprofit created in 2013 to help supplement the city’s public school system with learning opportunities beyond the normal class day.
Funded this year with a $10,000 grant from the Westchester County Youth Bureau, the academy teaches 25 fourth-graders math, science and robotics on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, respectively. The hope for the program is to retain the 25-student cohort every year until they graduate high school.
Loren Martinez, 9, is a student at the Lincoln School and said she has enjoyed the extra learning time because she likes math.
On a recent Tuesday, the class was learning about ratios and collecting data by observing peers throwing a ball into a hoop a short distance away.
“It’s fun because you get to play games,” said Martinez, who aspires to be a doctor when she grows up.
That kind of reaction is exactly what Gerald Dennis, executive director of the academy organization, said keeps students coming back.
“The objective is to really build a longitudinal study that speaks to outcome-driven changes that we can support by having them more engaged, more knowledgeable and more involved in things of the STEM nature,” he said.
These fourth graders in the Northeast STEM Starter Academy’s (NSSA) afterschool program at the Benjamin Turner Middle School in Mount Vernon on Tuesday, January 3rd got a surprise visit from Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas and a host of other dignitaries including BCW President and CEO Marsha Gordon interested in seeing the workings of this special science program.
Visitors were impressed with the students’ math explorations, part of an enhanced learning program which also includes science and robotics. NSSA, a BCW member, received a grant from the Westchester County Youth Board to use enhanced math, science, computer coding, robotics instruction and mentoring to drive meaningful, educational change for underserved, at-risk students in Mount Vernon and throughout the county.
“Seeing these children so engaged and excited to learn (about ratios!) was an uplifting start to the New Year,’’ said Gordon, who attended the tour. “NSSA gets to the heart of two very important BCW initiatives – cultivating tomorrow’s talent and revitalizing our urban areas. Congratulations to Gerald Dennis on his leadership, and Board members and supporters (and BCW members) Jennifer Flowers and Karen Spencer. This is a great partnership with government, including County Executive Rob Astorino, Youth Bureau Commissioner Iris Pagan, and Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas. Kudos are also in order for Acorda Therapeutics and Tierney Scavino for their contributions to this program.”