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Grand River Academy Launches Program to Inspire Students’ Life-long Passion for STEM Education

NHA Communications Team  |  November 05, 2020

Exploring science with a hands-on approach, one Detroit school recently launched a new program to increase equitable access to high-quality science curriculum, focusing on integrating STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) practices into their classrooms.

Grand River Academy, part of National Heritage Academies’ (NHA) network of schools across the country, launched a new STEM-focused program this year as part of the school’s specials classes, in combination with classes like art, music, and P.E. This type of program is vital to sparking students’ interest in science and STEM fields later in life, as a recent study found that scientists’ initial interest in the subject is most often sparked before they enter middle school.​

“Making science and math available to all students is my passion,” said Ralph Garza, principal at Grand River. “Children are naturally curious, and they need to fulfill that curiosity. I encourage students to always pursue that curiosity.” 

STEM courses at NHA schools build on the objectives of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) by incorporating hands-on STEM activities into their science curriculum. Grand River’s science instruction focuses on the 5E Model (engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate,) which provides students with hands-on opportunities to learn new ideas. 

“Michigan science standards are tied to NGSS, which incorporates engineering concepts,” said Leslie Stiles, manager of curriculum and instruction at NHA. “These standards focus on STEM, and it is no longer just science. This shifts from learning about to figuring out.”

Part of the figuring out includes exploring concepts that are grade-appropriate, becoming more complex over time. Grand River’s students are picking up and engaging with the STEM curriculum by participating in problem-solving. Older students get their fingers sticky by building marshmallow and toothpick structures to think deeply and problem solve. In younger grades, they do simple rocket-building to encourage students to pursue their curiosity.

These interactive lessons also open discussions to explore potential careers in the future. STEM-based curriculum helps prepare students for a successful career track later in life. The number of STEM jobs has grown by 79% since 1990, and data indicates that this trend will not slow in the future. Matt Bremenour, K-8 science teacher at Grand River explained that sharing engineering concepts, mathematical ideas, or even simply exploring students’ curiosity often leads to kids realizing a career path they may not have otherwise known about.

“STEM provides many opportunities for students to get an idea of what they want to do in the future,” said Bremenour. “I’ve found that students are really into these concepts. They don’t realize they can turn it into a career.”

During the pandemic, Grand River’s hands-on STEM learning was forced to become more creative than ever. By focusing on creating lessons that are feasible at home, with products that can be found in a kitchen, Bremenour worked to find challenging activities that were accessible to all students.

“We have to continue to teach the population that science and math are something they can pursue,” shared Garza. “Science is available to everyone. We continue to find creative ways that kids can use household products to integrate science.”

Grand River’s students are encouraged to explore phenomenon-driven connections in the real world and come to their own realizations. On National STEM Day, students are encouraged to take on these concepts, igniting their interest even while away from the classroom.

“There is a wealth of opportunity to meet whatever need and whatever fascination students have. Just keep exploring,” said Stiles.

National STEM Day, celebrated annually on Nov. 8, aims to showcase that children’s futures are brighter with strong science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics skills.