ADRIANA M. CHAVEZ
FOR THE SUN-NEWS
FARMINGTON – A school program that will wrap up in May has helped more than 1,000 students in Farmington, New Mexico, receive high-quality education emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math fields thanks to after-school programs created by New Mexico State University’s STEM Outreach Center and funded by a grant from the APS Foundation, the charitable arm of the Arizona Public Service energy company.
In September, STEM Outreach Center staff began implementing two 12-week programs, COUNT (Creating Opportunities Using Numerical Thinking) and DiMA (Digital Media Academy) in 10 elementary schools and three middle schools in the Farmington Municipal Schools district. STEM Outreach Center staff also provided professional development for teachers in Farmington and supplied about 100 resource kits with the supplies those teachers needed.
“The staff helped them understand the purpose and organization of the program as well as actually taking the time to engage in some of the actual lessons of the program,” said Susan Brown, director of the NMSU STEM Outreach Center. “At the end of the (professional development) sessions, the teachers were comfortable with the curriculum and understood the significance of active learning through an inquiry, problem-solving approach to learning.”
The APS Foundation announced in July that the NMSU STEM Outreach Center was the recipient of a $137,000 grant to fund the after-school programs for one academic year. The grant also allowed the center to hire a Farmington Municipal Schools liaison, Nicole Atencio, to make sure the needs of teachers were met, and to fund a stipend per semester for each teacher. STEM Outreach Center staff provides support for teachers via phone, email and regular visits to Farmington.
“STEM education is and will continue to be a focus of the APS Foundation and we are so pleased that New Mexico State University is putting these programs into action to support the teachers that are on the front lines ensuring the next generation has the education and training needed to work in a STEM related industry,” said Tina Marie Tentori, director of community affairs for APS and executive director of the APS Foundation.
Brown said the feedback for the programs has been positive and both programs were well received by the students.
Teachers involved in the programs said they’ve seen many of their students blossom after participating. Several students have also improved their grades dramatically.
“I had a group of three third-graders researching tectonic plates who struggled in class with reading and math concepts,” said Brandy Acosta, a DiMA teacher at Apache Elementary School in Farmington. “When they visited the site they were given a visual explanation of tectonic plates. While this was a great start, the group continued searching and found a National Geographic website with a video. They watched the video multiple times until they could explain the function of tectonic plates in their own words.”
Acosta said the engaging subject matter had the added benefit of teaching students that they can delve deeper into a topic on their own, a skill that will serve them well throughout their education.
“Too often we do not give students the opportunity to seek knowledge on their own,” she said. “By providing them with tools, they were able to find answers to aid them in their understanding. I was greatly impressed with their perseverance.”
Farmington Municipal Schools Superintendent Eugene Schmidt said 60 percent of students participating in the after-school programs would have not otherwise been able to have extended learning opportunities.
“Teachers across the district are pleased that this helps to reinforce what they teach during the day,” Schmidt said. “This is a very strong partnership model that helps fill educational voids, especially among the economically disadvantaged. The opportunity to participate in these programs closes the door to a lot of those gaps in learning for these kids.”
Schmidt said one parent of a participant spoke of how her daughter got into the car one day after attending one of the after-school programs, closed the door and told the parent, “I finally get it.”
“That’s a very powerful endorsement of what NMSU is trying to do to connect with kids,” Schmidt said.
The district recently received a grant from the Merrion Family Foundation in partnership with NMSU to fund transportation for students attending the after-school programs. Schmidt said many students would not have been able to participate in the programs without transportation.
The program continues until the end of this semester.