STEAM program empowering students at The Learning Community

With temperatures below freezing and falling fast, a brisk wind chased students and parents into the lobby of The Learning Community.

Tucked into the tiny 1.3- square mile area that makes up Central Falls, The Learning Community is a charter school serving more than 570 students from Central Falls, Pawtucket and Providence, grades K-8.

84 percent of the student population is low income and 37 percent are English language learners.

Yet, Learning Community students dramatically outperform schools from their sending districts, as well as many other Rhode Island schools on standardized tests in English Language Arts, Math and Science according to Derek Collamati, Director of Development at The Learning Community. It’s STEAM-focused Exploratorium afterschool and summer program – (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) is one that the National Grid Foundation helps support.

On January 16th, dozens of students and their parents crowded into the school to see the STEAM Fair projects the students had spent weeks on. The work was the culmination of the Fall-Winter Exploratorium session.

Collamati believes that all kids deserve the best education and the educational supports available.

“We are deeply grateful to our friends at National Grid and the National Grid Foundation for investing in our critical Exploratorium afterschool and summer program, which provides hands-on STEAM learning opportunities that allow our kids to get introduced to, excited about and on the path to rewarding, high-demand 21st century careers,” Collamati said.

That dedication to getting students inspired about their future was apparent that night. Groups of students stood proudly by their projects, happy to explain what they had created.

“My team and I created a Game of Life with financial planning,” said Nataly Acevado, a 6th grader at the school. “It lets you choose everything from vacations to a mortgage and you have to figure out to budget and pay for things,” said Acevado.

Their Exploratorium’s STEAM focus gives underrepresented minorities the opportunity to discover fields and grow their enthusiasm for these subjects without discouragement and discrimination, said Collamati. “A 2012 national survey showed that 77% of respondents said that women and minorities were missing from the STEAM workforce today because they were not identified, encouraged or nurtured to pursue STEAM studies as children (Bayer Facts of Science Education, 2012).

Seventh-grader Jinya Alieu created her Big, Little project with the goal of caring for others at its core. “It helps pair little kids with big kids to show them the ropes,” Alieu said. “It teaches them everything from learning where to catch the bus, to where the classroom is and to eating lunch with them, so they are not alone. It’s important to help other kids and help them learn how to deal with change,” Alieu said.

Central Falls Mayor James Diossa also stopped by to see the students at the charter school. “The STEAM events hosted by The Learning Community are great ways to allow students to work on projects that interest them in the areas of science, technology, engineering, arts and math,” he said. “This partnership allows the student the freedom to dive deeper into a subject that they like and provides them the opportunity to create something imaginative. The partnership between the National Grid Foundation and The Learning Community will help to keep these types of programs going and let the students discover and follow what they are passionate about,” said Mayor Diossa.

Experiential learning builds students’ critical thinking skills and self-confidence and can significantly improve their academic performance and readiness for post-secondary success, said Collamati.

“The National Grid Foundation is so excited with the work The Learning Community is doing ,” said Deb Drew, Director of Philanthropic Development for the National Grid Foundation. “Our support of the after-school STEM program helps so many youngsters learn, see their potential and ultimately helps positively impact the Central Falls community.  We are dedicated to  creating opportunities for solutions to today’s educational and environmental challenges.”