International Academy students host STEAM program for elementary kids

By: Jonathan Shead | Troy Times | Published April 24, 2021

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TROY — A new nonprofit co-founded by five International Academy East freshmen has given elementary students in the Troy School District a taste of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics through its latest 10-week program.

The nonprofit, Us For Them, co-founded by Sritha Neelam, Nivy Chandrakanth, Trisha Jois, Anish Nandamuri and Siddharth Karthikeyan, began in summer 2020 as a way for the founders to share their passion for STEAM with younger kids.

“We wanted to do something for the next generation about STEAM,” Neelam said.

The group hopes to expose students to STEAM topics at an earlier age.

“The main thing we wanted kids to take away from this way to actually see what STEAM is,” Chandrakanth said. “I feel like, nowadays, people get into the STEAM field later on, during their high school years. They’re never exposed to that type of learning, so they may already be set on a different career path. I think exposing them to STEAM paths will help them decide to get into some (of those) areas.”

The Us For Them team previously hosted a 10-week STEAM program for approximately 60 second and third grade students at Wattles Elementary School, where students learned about various STEAM-related subjects, such as clocks and the weather. “This is stuff we primarily thought would be important for them to learn as they grow and that they can use throughout their lives,” Nandamuri said.

After the success of the programming at Wattles, Jois explained, the group plans to use some of the same topics  and revise the programming to be more interactive for the students. Us For Them’s next programs will be held for Morse and Costello elementary school students.

“Based on the feedback we received from our first program, we’ll adapt and make sure this one is even better than our previous program was,” Jois said.

Wattles Elementary School Principal Joyce Brasington said the Us For Them “top notch” program has been exactly what the district has been searching for.

“We have been searching for some type of activity that our virtual students could do while we were handling this whole pandemic situation the best we could. The fact that this team would come in and everything was virtual — they worked incredibly hard on a curriculum for our students,” she said. “The Troy School District is working hard to come up with a curriculum where kids can be thinkers and tinkerers at the same time, and this student-led program, Us For Them, has really led into that nicely. Kids are able to think about real world applications for these STEAM activities. It was really remarkable. I’m sure we’re going to build upon what they did for all of our learners next year.”

Beyond the curriculum-based benefits, students also saw how students could lead other, younger students, and they learned skills that will be useful later in life.

“Every activity they did was real world, and it really generated a lot of enthusiasm for STEAM-type activities among those second and third graders,” Brasington said.

As the team prepares to host its next program, Chandrakanth said they plan to stay local as they work out the program’s kinks, but they’re interested in expanding to other districts in southeast Michigan.

“It’s so exciting that other elementary schools can take advantage of what they offer because it’s so impactful for kids,” Brasington said. “I’m excited that our Board of Education is going to recognize their hard work, because it was all completely their drive and desire to share their passion for STEAM with these younger students. It’s incredible what kids can do when they have time and passion.”

Alongside the team’s 10-week program, they have also made efforts to promote and expose K-12 students to STEAM through social media, by hosting an Instagram series that promotes various STEAM leaders from around the world and the research they’ve conducted. Notable leaders have included Stephen Hawking, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Elizabeth Blackburn and Linda Buck.

The group has hosted a STEAM toddlers program for children 4-6 years old; they’ve raised money through fundraisers for COVID-19 relief funds and their own organizational costs; and they plan to host a virtual STEAM panel April 28 to showcase different STEAM careers.

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