One of the best things about my job is that I get to see kids every day. Recently, I’ve noticed a new energy — kids are interacting with maker learning activities (and with each other) with true joy, in what may feel like the first “normal” school year in a long time. And we know that when kids experience joy and connection, they are open to making even greater leaps in learning. There is much to look forward to this year. For KID Museum, it will be a year of tremendous growth as we expand our reach — and joyful learning experiences — to more kids than ever before.
While it’s a great feeling to see young people so engaged and happy, we know our work is far from done. Students are still struggling academically: NAEP scores show precipitous drops in reading and math, with the greatest decreases among lower performing students. It’s also no secret that stress and anxiety have skyrocketed among kids and teens, and teachers are reporting a dramatic rise in behavioral issues since students returned to schools last year. This is a critical moment for our kids, and we need to take action.
Existing equity gaps are only getting wider, and are most egregious in STEM fields. As Dr. Ebony McGee powerfully described at KID Museum’s Symposium on Equity in STEM, we have more than a leaky pipeline — the pipes are broken and we need a system fix. Kids need access to in-school and out-of-school STEM learning opportunities, they need role models, and they need culturally-responsive curriculum so that they can see themselves in what they are learning. At KID Museum, we are meeting this need by partnering with local and national organizations that serve marginalized youth, to forge a welcoming STEM community.
Our long-standing partnership with Montgomery County Public Schools is centered on bringing high-impact learning experiences to students from populations underrepresented in STEM. Over the past ten years, we’ve served over 15,000 MCPS students, 69 percent from high-poverty or Title I schools. This school year, our partnership is growing to serve more students than ever before, expanding both in-school and out-of-school programming, and providing maker curriculum and professional development to hundreds of teachers, so that they can integrate maker learning into the classroom and address the significant learning loss fueled by remote learning. Incorporating both technical and social emotional skill building, maker learning has a proven, measurable impact on student academic and social emotional health. It’s also fun. Teachers frequently tell us that their students “are having so much fun, they don’t even realize they are learning.”
Coming off a summer filled with hands-on camps, summer school, and professional development workshops, we are delighted to welcome the first of many elementary and middle school cohorts this school year — as well as families on the weekend. Like the kids I’ve been observing these past few weeks, they will experience much more than learning technical STEM skills. They will experience confidence, camaraderie, inspiration — and joy.