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LYNN — Students at Washington S.T.E.M. Elementary School learned science from scientists on Thursday morning. Secretary of Education James Peyser attended one of the classes as part of Massachusetts STEM week, declared earlier this year by the Baker-Polito Administration.
Fourth and fifth grade students at Washington S.T.E.M. spent the day engaging in successive interactive lessons taught by Science from Scientists, a Boston nonprofit which describes its mission as improving the attitudes and aptitudes of grades 4 to 8 in science, technology, engineering and math.
Science from Scientists teaches at Washington S.T.E.M. twice a month, with 18 visits a year. Instructors from the nonprofit have been teaching at the school for three years, and it is the only Lynn school that receives instruction from them.
But School Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler said there are plans to expand within the district the program, which brings scientists to the classroom to teach hands-on engaging lessons. Not only are kids taught in class during the visits, there’s pre-work students do in classrooms, with ensuing days including more work and an assessment on the material.
On Thursday, students learned about celestial mechanics and objects in space, including the different phases of the moon.
“There’s real value in having people from the industry come and engage kids in learning experiences that are tied to and aligned with standards,” said Tutwiler, who also attended the lesson.
The stop in Lynn was one of the events planned for Peyser to celebrate the statewide STEM week. Peyser said the effort includes visiting schools like Washington S.T.E.M. and seeing more elaborate ways of delivering instruction.
It’s pretty unusual to have a STEM-focused school like Washington, Peyser said, especially at the elementary level, which ensures that STEM is the center of their academic experience rather than an add-on.
“The economy is driven so much by STEM, in Massachusetts especially, more so than any other state in the country,” Peyser said. “For young people to have opportunity in their lives to be able to pursue them, especially in communities like Lynn where you have a fairly high percentage of students coming from low-income families, students of color who are underrepresented in these fields, this is critical for them to create opportunities for themselves and their families.”
Erika Angle, the CEO of Science from Scientists, founded the nonprofit in 2002 as a way to give back and get kids excited in science. She said the lessons are developed not only to be engaging around STEM topics, but also to promote interpersonal communication, thinking and the ability to ask intelligent questions.
“The point is to arm them with the right life skills to be constructive members of society,” Angle said. “We want people to love science, but we also want them to see skills they’re going to learn are going to be applicable no matter what career they choose.”
Anthony Frye, principal of Washington S.T.E.M., said the program allows the kids to learn in a different way, adding that the respect and collaboration piece is important.
Lia Stelljes, K-12 assistant director of curriculum and instruction for science, worked with Science from Scientists to choose lessons that were aligned with standards.
Frye said the school met its accountability targets last year. The school still has space to grow, he said, but the test scores showed that the kids were retaining what’s being provided to them.
State Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) attended the lesson and said it was a great opportunity to see the STEM program in Lynn.
“It has really inspired these students to not be afraid of math and science but to be excited about it,” Crighton said. “It’s a program that many legislators care about and hopefully, we can increase it to additional schools and school districts.”