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Full STEAM Ahead for Worcester's Head Start Program!

By Alyssa Haywoode
Published November 3, 2016

Publication Date: 
November 6, 2016

Equipped with big dreams, generous hearts, and strategic funding, the Worcester Child Development Head Start program has been building a STEAM curriculum to immerse preschool-age children in science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math. It’s been a dynamic process that shows how important it is to have partnerships, federal investments, and lots of local action.

Inspired by the STEAM work being done by a Head Start program in Lawrence, Mass., staff in Worcester decided to form a STEAM committee and create their own STEAM rooms.

The first room was built at Worcester’s Mill Swan Head Start. Staff took a gross-motor skills room that was never big enough and turned it into a nature-themed room. Volunteers, staff, families, and high school students helped prepare the space. One wall features a mural of a forest. There are tanks of small animals for observations, and a tree hideaway for reading and observing. One wall is covered by a donated sheet of metal that creates magnet-friendly space where children can build marble runs. One teacher donated a few hundred dollars she had received as a stipend from WGBH.

Worcester built a second “moon landing” themed STEAM space in its Greendale location in an unused basement library. This space has a mural with realistic planets and stars that makes it easy for children to imagine that they’re in space. There’s a space station that two children can fit inside, and staff plan to add a lunar surface that will be made of foam and other materials.

“We do a lot with recycling centers,” Carlene Sherbourne, Worcester Head Start’s education manager, says of getting materials. And staff also look for supplies in Head Start’s attic where found objects get a new life. One example, the old computer stand that has become the home of a hydroponics project.

Sherbourne says parents call the space-themed room “the Science Museum in my child’s school.” And one mother, after attending an event in this space with her son, said of her child, “I never knew he was going to become an engineer until tonight.”

Laurie Kuczka, Worcester’s program director, has invested money to pay a builder and buy special equipment, including a wind tunnel for the space-themed STEAM room. Worcester also hired a former teacher, Michael Jennette, to be a STEAM consultant. He manages the two rooms and keeps them running.

All 621 of the children in Worcester’s Head Start program get to use the STEAM rooms thanks to mini field trips. Adults use and learn from these spaces during visits and STEAM workshops for educators.

Next on Worcester’s agenda is building a STEAM bus. Worcester already has the bus. It doesn’t run, but that’s okay. The vision is to gut the bus — take out its seats — and create a non-mobile site where children can climb aboard and study motion and movement. Staff considered building a mobile bus, but after looking at similar buses in Maryland and Florida, they realized that the cost would be too high.

The project is getting technical expertise from an advisor from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), and there’s a plan to recruit WPI students to help out. The project also needs more volunteers, donations, and a secure location that can become the bus’ home, essentially a STEAM bus depot.

Worcester Head Start and WPI are also collaborating on Seeds of STEM, a project that will develop a pre-K STEM curriculum. Funded by the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, Seeds of STEM is a $1.5 million project that will “incorporate teams of teachers, researchers, and scientists who will develop, test, revise, implement, analyze, record, and survey vast amounts of information. Professor Melissa Sue John, a social psychologist whose expertise in stereotypes and bias in STEM education will investigate ways to neutralize any potential stereotypes in the curriculum, as well.”

It’s pretty impressive work for Worcester’s Head Start program, which also sent a 9-person team to present their work at the recent Massachusetts STEM Summit.

The payoff?

“We have seen our child assessment scores soar in the areas of science and math and logic and reasoning,” Sherbourne says.

Kim Davenport, managing director of Birth to 3rd Grade Alignment in Worcester, adds, “We want STEAM opportunities to be a vibrant part of each child’s educational experience in Worcester. With energized champions like Carlene and her STEAM Team our community’s collaboration is going to new heights. The scientists, engineers and artists of tomorrow are dreaming and doing today.”

We look forward to seeing these very young innovators grow up and change the world.