Educating during a pandemic is an issue many teachers have been tasked with solving over these past months. In the age of COVID-19, schools across the globe must meet the challenge of teaching students safely, and it was no different for the Community Science department’s Youth Exploring Science (YES) Program.
The YES Program is an elemental part of the Science Center’s mission, helping underserved teens from throughout the St. Louis community connect with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math). So, the staff and educators behind YES knew they had to adapt…and do so quickly.
“It [was] essential that we keep the YES program current and accessible to the teen participants and our community,” says Siinya Williams, Senior Director of the YES Program. “As we continue to fulfill our mission of creating a STEAM pipeline for our next-generation workforce, we could not allow COVID-19 to halt the Saint Louis Science Center.”
In other words, challenge accepted.
“As we continue to fulfill our mission of creating a STEAM pipeline for our next-generation workforce, we could not allow COVID-19 to halt the Saint Louis Science Center.”
Hands-on learning is a core part of the YES Program’s approach to STEAM learning, so Siinya and the team knew that adapting wouldn’t be a walk in Forest Park.
Hands-on learning is a core part of the YES Program’s approach to STEAM education, so Siinya and the team knew that adapting wouldn’t be a walk in Forest Park.
Because of that approach, moving YES online required some creative thinking and innovation to keep the program (and its impact on the lives of the YES teens) possible.
Ultimately, Siinya says, “We were able to move our learning from in-person to virtual within a matter of weeks.”
That’s not to say that there haven’t been bumps in the road, however.
“Not being able to physically interact with the teens has been challenging,” Siinya says. “Both the teens and staff look forward to interacting in person as they develop projects and service the community.”
There’s also the very real issue of access to the things that make remote learning possible—namely, technology like computers and even internet service. While many of us take our laptops and wi-fi for granted, Siinya points out that not all the teens have easy access to computers and reliable internet.
On a larger scale, the Science Center, like many nonprofits, is amid a fundamental disruption in how it funds important programs like Youth Exploring Science. Additional support from donors, members, and Supporting-level members has never been more important or more impactful in keeping programs like YES going.
“Not being able to physically interact with the teens has been challenging.”
Ultimately for YES, while it’s almost impossible to spot positives during global uncertainty, the program managed to find some silver linings in its move online.
For one, YES teens in a typical year focus on a single STEAM component—anything from aerospace to cybersecurity. With the move to virtual learning at home, the teens could explore additional STEAM areas they might be interested in, opening up new avenues for them to spark a lasting connection to science.
And, now that YES has made the transition to online learning for the time being, they have a digital learning platform that’s both adaptable to a variety of situations and ready for the day the world returns to some sense of normalcy. “This interactive platform,” Siinya says, “is one that we’ll continue to use in working with our YES teens.”
Despite its challenges, the pandemic didn’t stop YES from delivering a good experience for both the teens and educators.
With the move to virtual learning at home, the teens could explore additional STEAM areas they might be interested in, opening up new avenues for them to spark a lasting connection to science.
Though the Youth Exploring Science Program is still forging its path forward, Siinya says, “We have received tremendous support from the community and parents for our ability to transition during this pandemic.”
They see the value in YES for its positive impact on its students, whether it’s the encouragement of post-secondary education, the boost toward attaining STEAM careers after graduating, or even just the innovative thinking that allows dedicated teens like those in YES to never quit, even when the obstacle is a global one.
Support from donors, Science Center members, and Supporting-level members is instrumental in helping the Science Center continue offering connections to science for everyone in our region. If you’d like to show additional support for our mission, please consider donating to the Science Center’s Annual Fund, becoming a member, or becoming a Supporting-level member.
Want to learn more about how the Science Center and its supporters are making a difference for STEAM learning in the St. Louis region?