Meade Heights afterschool clubs focus on STEM, fitness

Elijah Joseph and Grace Gonzalez, students at Meade Heights Elementary School, are members of the We Do Legos Robotics afterschool club. It is one of three winter clubs that focuses on STEM education, and health and wellness. The clubs are funded by a multiyear Department of Defense Education Activity grant. (Photos by Daniel Kucin Jr.)

Tristan Hope owns a set of Legos at home, but he prefers to create Lego robots in his afterschool club.

“We learn on the computer,” said Tristan, a third-grader at Meade Heights Elementary School. “… You can program [a Lego robot] how to move.”

The 9-year-old is a member of the We Do Lego Robotics club. It is one of three winter afterschool clubs at the school that focuses on STEM, and health and wellness education.

The clubs are funded by a multiyear Department of Defense Education Activity grant.

“The clubs have inspired students to take a look at science as more engaging and exciting,” said Susan Gallagher, principal of Meade Heights. “We wanted to create a STEM culture in the school, so mission accomplished.”

Fifty-four students participated in the clubs Monday afternoon for the last day of the eight-session winter season.

The other winter clubs are Junior Engineers and Scientists Program, and the Fitness Club.

The eight-week session for spring clubs begins Monday and ends May 30.

Afterschool Enrichment

Gallagher said that traditional afterschool activities such as piano and swimming lessons can be costly for families.

“Some of our children do not have the opportunity to participate in afterschool activities, partly because of the pricing,” Gallagher said.

But Meade Heights is able to provide enriching afterschool activities free of charge and to all grade levels.

The We Do Lego Robotics club introduces students in grades three to five to robotics. Students build Lego models using a Lego Education computer program that provides step-by-step instructions.

Students also can learn how to program their robots to perform a specific task.

Michele DeBarry, Meade Heights Elementary School’s Triple-E Stem and Society teacher, interacts with her class during afterschool activities.

“[The club’s] purpose is to teach basic programming and problem-solving skills,” said Michele D. DeBerry, the school’s DoDEA STEM liaison.

DeBerry said the students learn the basics of coding and problem-solving.

In addition to building robots, students also collect data about their machines to learn how they work and to correct any problems in programming.

Participants often work in teams to reinforce the importance of communication and perseverance.

Eight-year-old Natalie Schwark is Tristan’s team member.

“It’s pretty fun,” the third-grader said. “You get to build a variety of robots. I never knew how to program something. This helps me learn programming without having to do a lot of math.”

The Junior Engineers and Scientists Program, or JESS, introduces youngsters in kindergarten through second grade to the world of the physical sciences including chemistry, physics, biology and different types of engineering.

Kim Travers, a kindergarten teacher and club adviser, said this year the students explored static electricity, optical illusions, magnets, gravity and sound.

Each week, students read a book related to a science task. Afterward, they participate in an experiment that reinforces the book’s topic.

Students then record their observations from the experiment in a class journal.

On Monday, the students read “Astronaut Handbook” by Meghan McCarthy and learned how astronauts prepare for space travel, the mission of recent space shuttles and the experiments that astronauts conduct in space.

For their experiment, the students were divided into two teams of astronauts on a space shuttle. Each team member tried to fit a bolt to a screw by hand. They wore adult-sized rubber gloves to mimic how astronauts perform tasks in space while dressed in space suits that are 12 layers thick.

The first team to bolt all of its screws and place them in a bucket was the winner.

“It’s hard,” said 6-year-old Sade Murray, a first-grader. “It was hard to do it with the big gloves. … I learned that to be an astronaut, you have to train very hard.”

Seven-year-old Noah Williams said his task was easy.

“You have to persevere,” the second-grader said.

Travers agreed.

Eight-year-old Taijah Bayton, a third-grader, plays kick ball during the Fitness Club at Meade Heights Elementary School. The afterschool club focuses on healthy eating and physical fitness for students in third through fifth grade.

“In life, things don’t always come easy,” she said. “Even someone as highly trained as an astronaut doesn’t always get things right the first time.

“I want them to learn not to give up and that some things can take time to achieve.”

The Fitness Club, run by Shanna DeBerry, a third-grade teacher, and Andrew Schwert, the physical education teacher, helps students make healthier food choices and keeps them active during the winter.

DeBerry said this year students learned how to read nutritional labels on packaged foods and how to select healthy foods from vending machines.

Fitness students begin their club session with a healthy snack and then participate in drills and games to promote team work and build physical fitness.

On Monday, Schwert led participants in a game of kick ball.

“We learn about diets and how to eat good, and we play a game with a twist that’s fun,” said fifth-grader Trey Hyatt, 11, after he made it to home base.

Eight-year-old Lauren Meade said she likes the club because “we’re always moving.”

“And they play tricks on us. One time our snack was M&M cookies. Everyone who ate a cookie had to run two laps — and that was everyone in the club,” Lauren said.

“We have fun, but we also learn the consequences of not being healthy.”

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