In the beginning of my 9th grade year, I worked with Sarah Culberson, the Director of Service Learning at Oakwood, and Marcos Arias, Oakwood S.T.E.A.M. Department Chair, to implement a S.T.E.A.M. community partnership project. I reached out to the Assistant Principal at Valor Academy, Kim Vawter, and was excited to learn of their interest in creating a S.T.E.A.M. partnership between Oakwood and Valor. Together, we decided that Oakwood would visit Valor four times during the 2014-2015 school year to work with each of their 5th grade classes.
On January 6th, 2015, twenty Oakwood students, Marcos, and I went to the campus and made zipliners with the Valor students. It was so satisfying to watch the excitement of the Valor students as they raced their zipliners. After our first visit, I received this meaningful email from Kim Vawter:
You guys are just absolutely amazing! THANK YOU for the smiles you put on our students faces. This past Friday at our 5th grade community circle we had 2 students share out with the entire 5th grade about their experience, and one of our 5th grade girls shared that the activity meant more to her than just doing the zipline because her Oakwood helper really seemed to care about her and made her feel special by talking with her about life, and giving her advice and encouragement to succeed. SO AWESOME! You guys are making a difference and I LOVE that it is with our kiddos!
We returned again on February 17th with improved zipliners that included 3-D printed parts from Oakwood’s S.T.E.A.M. Department. The students from both schools were clearly inspired by one another. I had the opportunity to work with three girls from Valor; the process of teaching, exploring, and learning with and from them was so special for me. One of the Oakwood students said something that was reflective of our experience: “After I go to Valor, I can’t stop smiling for the rest of the day. It makes me so happy.”
For our next Valor project on April 21st, we brought 3-D printers that we’d built during Marcos’s Immersion class and taught the students how to use them. Marcos designed bookmarks with the Valor logo, and we laser cut each of the Valor students’ names into a wooden piece, to be added to the bookmarks. As each Oakwood student set up their printer, I gave an introduction to the Valor students. I began by showing four images: a model of the human heart, a car, a chocolate snowflake, and a necklace.
“What do these objects have in common?” I asked the students.
Hands shot up all around me. I called on someone, and they proudly responded that they were all made on a 3-D printer. Impressed, I went on to explain why we were there, what we were going to do, and I told them about the printers we had built. Then, they broke off into their groups.
The level of interest the Valor students showed and the questions they asked amazed me. After they learned a bit about the printer and we started to print their bookmarks, we talked about all of the possibilities of 3-D printing. We fed off each other’s ideas and excitement. As I watched all the students run out with their bookmarks and other objects they had printed, proud to show their friends and teachers, I couldn’t help but smile to myself.
On May 14th, we went to work with the last class of 5th graders. We did the same project as our prior visit, except with modified bookmarkers, new and improved. Again, I was impressed by the students willingness to explore and engage, to ask questions and learn. As I walked around the room, I was moved by the Oakwood students—their ability to be such good teachers, their passion, and their delight to work with the Valor kids and share their knowledge.
After I go to Valor, I can’t stop smiling for the rest of the day. It makes me so happy.
When our last visit of the year concluded, the students presented me with their class t-shirt. I felt truly grateful to be a part of the Valor community and to be able to work and learn from the 5th grade students. As I walked out of the school, a boy from the class exclaimed, “Thank you so much! That was so awesome!”
It was awesome, I thought to myself.
We decided to continue the partnership this school year. We’ve already returned to Valor twice to work with our new class of 5th graders, making and launching rockets. Once more, I was reminded of how amazing it is to work with these students.
Over the past year, I have learned so much from creating, planning, coordinating, and teaching. And most importantly, I had a lot of fun while doing it. We have worked with over one-hundred fifty students and will hopefully have the chance to work with many more over the coming years. I am so grateful that we have this partnership and owe many thanks to Sarah Culberson, Marcos Arias, as well as every Oakwood student and parent volunteer who continues to make this program possible. I can’t wait for our next visit to Valor on April 21st!