New Program Gives Youngstown City Students ’STEAM’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Surrounded by 3D printers, chemistry experiments and digital imagery equipment in a newly remodeled classroom at Chaney Middle School, eighth grader Myshell Johnson Hodges says what she learns here is much different from a typical school day of memorization and testing.

She is part of the new middle-school based Y-STEAM program, which started this school year in the Youngstown City School District. Classrooms inside East and Chaney middle schools were remodeled for $300,000 to $400,000 and outfitted with new equipment for the hands-on curriculum.

The hands-on approach will help Hodges achieve her goal of becoming an anesthesiologist, she says.

“I feel like it’s easier for me to learn that way because when you learn, you want to learn in a fun way instead of the old-fashioned way because you lose interest more easily,” Hodges says. “When you’re doing something fun, you want to learn.”

Hodges says the program provides an interactive learning environment and opportunities through virtual and live experiences – opportunities she wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

“We have these 3D printers that half of us probably wouldn’t have even discovered if it weren’t in STEAM,” she says. “A lot of people will find their path in the STEAM program.”

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Gallery images include group photo of Chaney Middle School students Keiara Robinson, Myshell Johnson Hodges and Ciani Jones; Venus Cataldo, STEAM Coordinator for Chaney Middle School; a row of 3D printers and a solar-powered car project.

This district’s curriculum is designed to provide community-oriented learning experiences, which are centered on opportunities that inspire innovation, inquiry, critical thinking and academic excellence. The idea behind the integration of STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics – is to foster and develop a lifelong passion for learning while preparing scholars for personal and professional success.

The program would have begun a year or two earlier if not for the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues, says CEO of Youngstown City Schools Justin Jennings. He and Bridget Lambright-Tommelleo, district K-12 STEAM coordinator, collaborated to get more minority students into science. Most schools have STEM, but YCSD wanted to enhance its arts programing as well.

Youngstown Business Incubator, Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology, Eastern Gateway Community College and area businesses partnered with the school district on this project, he says.

Scholars at both Chaney and East Middle Schools are exposed to STEAM at some point in their careers, he says.

“We decided to start it in middle school so we could go up to high school and down to elementary,” Jennings says. “We want our students to embrace science a lot more. In science, you have mathematics, reading and history. We want to really see them take off with it and embrace it a lot more.”

Seventh grader Keiara Robinson says this learning experience helps her comprehend what she is being taught – something she conveys to friends and family.

“You want to be more engaged,” she says. “It’s better than sitting down, looking at a board and writing.”

STEAM education can lead students to any number of career paths, including sound programming, video game production and civil engineering, administrators say.

“We need it around here,” Jennings says. “You see our streets. You see our bridges. If we could get more engineers and actually get them to come back to Youngstown and work, I think it will make a difference in our city.”

Chaney Middle School competes in the Junior Solar Sprint, a national competition for fifth through eighth graders, and will compete against other schools. Students will design, build and race solar-powered cars using engineering skills, math, teamwork, problem solving and investigative environmental issues to gain hands-on STEAM skills.

In addition to the classroom curriculum, Youngstown City Schools organizes in-person and virtual speakers to talk to the students about the education and what they can do with it.

Venus Cataldo, STEAM coordinator for Chaney Middle School, recalled an accountant speaking to her class. She reminded her students that the career deals with money, which intrigued them and inspired them to ask more questions at the end of the session.

“Almost half of them said that they were interested in learning to be an accountant,” she says. “That was mind blowing because I can honestly say I’m not a math person, but that was really cool.”

Sixth grader Ciani Jones says he understands teachers like Cataldo more than he does in his regular classes because they break problems down to the simplest forms. That kind of learning will help him in future endeavors, he says.

“It hasn’t persuaded me to be [in a certain career], but down the path if I still go to school then most definitely,” Ciani says.

A recent virtual discussion with former NFL player Myron Rolle, who is now a neurosurgeon, emphasized the importance of having a back-up plan in place in lieu of sports. The conversation was made possible through DreamWakers, which partners with fourth- through 12th-grade classrooms to provide virtual connections with role models from diverse backgrounds, identities and perspectives.

“Your mind is going to last you way more than your body,” Cataldo says.

She keeps her sixth-grade students active in the classroom as they dance out the phases of the moon.

“Regularly, you see it through paper or outside at night,” Cataldo says. “Dancing it out and having to explain it definitely is using different parts of your brain. It’s a lasting experience they’ll never forget.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.