Monday, September 22, 2014

Westport Bound: Bringing Education to the Original Entertainment District

Read about another reason Westport rocks!

For those who live in Kansas City, Westport brings us entertainment, hotels, restaurants, services, shopping and some of our favorite bars. What many do not know is that this area is a great place to learn. Learn about culture, engage in interesting conversations, walk around and observe people from all different walks of life and enjoy a thriving setting that is over 150 years old.

This past week two groups of students (K-8) from Visitation Catholic School were bused down to Westport to the Gould Evans Architectural Firm for two different after school clubs provided by a non-profit STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) Engine. STEAM Engine has been a passion of mine for quite awhile. After much planning and paperwork, we just got the green light a few weeks ago. My partners, Matt Gunter and Hank Stratemeier and I are thrilled to have started a non-profit organization that will focus on encouraging learners of all ages to grow through STEAM initiatives and activities.

Why Westport?  Last fall, I started collaborating with David Reid and Emily Harrold from  Gould Evans Architectural Firm to create a STEAM Studio in the available loft space in their building. Gould Evans has partnered with our non-profit, STEAM Engine to provide a unique, "anti-classroom" collaborative space for kids to feel comfortable being in. You can read more about how we designed the space to pilot some programs this summer. It was a huge success! Westport has been especially popular and continually growing over the last few years. I am beyond excited to support this growth in a different way.

Why Buses?  Our Catholic School K-8 kids don't take buses to or from school.They typically are housed in the same building for all nine years of their K-8 schooling. Last week they all boarded buses and were excited to collectively take this trip together. No technology allowed, so they talked and visited about their day, some did their homework, while others actually looked out the window and made comments about what they saw on their way. Not to mention, how many parents have the time or means to drive their kids to Westport after school? This bus transportation is also good for the environment as it promotes cleaner air (buses 80% emit less carbon monoxide than cars). Bus trips encourage conversations, observations and exposing them to a ride they won't get elsewhere.

Why After School?  Learning doesn't have to feel like "school" and should extend outside of the school day. Allowing kids to experience a different setting and explore by making choices on what they want to do and how they want to approach it, is key. Parents and teachers cannot do it all. STEAM Engine activities encourage design thinking and the time it takes for kids to feel like they can be creative and express themselves as they want to. Many people have the creativity knocked out of them at an early age. Design thinking, in a nutshell, promotes learners to solve their own problems by designing their own solutions. This builds confidence, risk taking. It also teachers them how to plan out their projects. instead of just jumping in and answering a question or starting an activity.  STEAM Engine activities promote brainstorming, planning, testing and the development of what they want to manufacture: collaborating, inventing, testing, designing and redesigning before the final product. Less consuming, more producing...their way.

Why Should You Care? Because kids are our future. Education is evolving. We are suppose to be preparing them for jobs which require them to think for themselves and solve problems. Our school systems need work and it all can't be done during the school day. Read about some benefits of after school programming which range from boosting academic success, to reducing use of drugs and teenage sex while providing stronger self-esteem and confidence.  Getting kids out of their school bubbles and offering them ways to be creative, enjoy working, and exploring keeps them growing and loving learning.

Please support our cause, STEAM Engine by reading my future blogs about what we will be doing and who we are. We are starting small but will be growing big involving more schools and adding more exciting programs. And, most of all, we are going to have fun doing it!

Watch how Dublin's got it going on. We can all learn from each other, and we should.

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