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How an Innovative STEM Program in Birmingham Reaches Students in Grades 3-6

Dr. Starks seeks to give children in Jefferson County access to different forms of STEM and art applications. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)
By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times

Xander, clad in his white Huffman All-Stars shirt and cap emblazoned with the school’s signature “H,” fits together Lego pieces on a warm Wednesday afternoon, tucked away in a corner of the second floor of Birmingham Public Library’s Central Branch.

“I love Legos, but I threw away them all because I thought I was too old for them, but I still love them,” said the 11-year-old.

It was Xander’s first time at the “Check Out STREAM,” an introductory program for STREAM Innovations, which seeks to introduce children in grades three through six to a variety of science, technology, engineering, math and art forms, while reinforcing reading skills.

Adrienne Starks, founder and CEO of STREAM Innovations, said her organization’s programs seek to give children in Jefferson County access to different forms of STEM and art applications, as well as to “support innovation, creativity and problem solving.”

Check Out STREAM alone has given students hands-on experience with electronics through Snap Circuits, as well as bridge building and other types of design and building through Legos and other creative toys.

“What we’re looking to do as far as impact is to increase the amount of exposure to these different disciplines that many of these students aren’t having in the places that they’re learning. We do not take exams or provide tests at the end of these,” Starks said at a recent Birmingham City Council committee meeting.

Learning through a variety of hands-on experiences also exposes students to a variety of different careers they may be interested in, the scientist said.

“There are many careers that our students are not even aware that are a possibility, and the very basics of what we are attempting to do is provide exposure, so that students can understand, ‘This is something that maybe I like, and this is something that I may want to pursue as I get older,'” Starks said.

The process of self-discovery that STREAM Innovations attempts to give local students is good not only for the children but also the community in which they live, Starks said.

“Each of our children in our communities, Birmingham, Jefferson County, across the world, deserves an opportunity to identify what their personal passions are, and they deserve that because we need them in order to create solutions for problems in our communities,” Starks said.

During last week’s session at BPL, Ponya Parks, director of external affairs for STREAM, said she loves watching the cooperation and relationships among students involved in the program “naturally happen.”

“What I love is just watching this naturally happen, and how they start to work in groups or how they work individually, but help each other, and you just get to see them develop relationships within a learning environment because they look at it as, ‘This is different. This is after school,’ but they’re learning something. They’re finding something that they enjoy,” Parks said.

In addition to the Check Out STREAM, which moves from library to library around the city, the organization also offers its STREAM Saturdays program, where students can partake in similar hands-on experiences, in addition to yoga, writing and provided breakfast and lunch.

For older students, in seventh and eighth grades, STREAM also offers a 6-week coding bootcamp in the summer for 15 students who get accepted into the program. Applications have not yet opened for summer 2023.

For more information about the STREAM Innovations and its programming, go to https://streaminnovations.org/.