By Ariel Robinson
On Monday afternoon, Lockheed Elementary students in grades K-12 design, build and test rockets during an after-school program at Marietta School where children learn skills in science, technology, engineering, art and math.
Maureen Meri has a background in IT and in 2013 she founded The Steam Generation.
Many people may be familiar with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs, which are science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The STEAM generation expands on this, enhancing students’ motor skills and reading and writing skills as well as providing them with access to science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics – hence the name of the organization.
“We’re merging the letter ‘A’ for the sake of the art,” Meri said. “I cannot teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) without art… The element of art is incorporated into design, and it is part of the engineering design process. Children must be able to express what they imagine in their buildings. In order to do so, they have to express themselves through art.
STEAM Generation, a non-profit organization, aims to serve children from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
They work with children ages 4 to 14, conduct classes, camps, and workshops, and partner with other schools and nonprofits in the Atlanta metropolitan area. They also have virtual classes in light of the pandemic.
Myrie serves children in 22 states around the United States and in parts of Canada.
“We are targeting first-class schools,” Meri said. “We serve everyone, but all of our funding goes to schools that have a large number of free and reduced lunches, like Lockheed. We are here to provide these opportunities for children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them.”
Myrie started her Monday program by reading “The Rooftop Rocket Party” by Roland Chambers. The book is about a boy who loves rockets and space travel.
Next, the children, under the guidance of Merry, began designing their rockets on paper.
Meri first instructed the children to draw a rectangle. That’s what I called the fuselage, which is the main body of the missile.
Then the children proceeded to draw the fins and cone of the nose of the rocket. Each student added their own touch to their drawings, coloring them with the shades they saw fit and adding some to the rocket launches.
After the design part, the students started building their own rockets. The fuselage in this case was a straw.
“What is my rule? [about the straws]? ‘ Mary asked the children.
“Do not bend the straw, do not blow the straw,” said the children in unison.
STEAM students cut out two wings they drew on an index card and glued them onto straws. They used clay to act as a nose cone, and placed it over the rocket.
Once these steps are complete, the kids line up to fire their rockets into the air-powered rocket launcher. The goal was to see whose missile could fly farthest.
After each child fired their rocket once, Merry instructed the children to pry the tip of their muddy nose cones out to see if it would push their rocket further, which they did.
When asked why this happens, Merry said, “The lighter the nose cone, the farther the missile goes. So I teach them how the weight affects the missile and the performance of the missile.”
The children cheered and watched in awe of their self-designed rockets flying through the cafeteria. Some ran back in line, eager to do it again. They were showing off their missiles to their peers.
Merry said that since the children had to stay after school anyway, they might also be involved in academic enrichment programs.
For various reasons, some related to social class, some children may not know the basic skills that they would have learned in pre-kindergarten. This puts them behind other children when they reach elementary school.
For example, few older children do not know how to cut correctly.
“Our goal is to bridge the gap because the school can’t do everything,” Meri said. “We are using enrichment outside of school… to continue learning… Think of COVID, these kids may have been affected by COVID. Learning loss is still real and has been exacerbated by COVID.”
Myrie said The STEAM Generation focuses on problem solving, critical thinking, and peer collaboration. The program is complementary to school learning.
The Rotary Club of Marietta is sponsoring and funding the STEAM generation at Lockheed for this academic year. The set program began at Lockheed six weeks ago and takes place every Monday after school.
Usually, there are about 30 children in the program.
This week the program focused on aerospace engineering, and next week, they will switch to civil engineering, which will conclude the academic year.
Merry said the Steam generation programs are funded. They will have to secure funding to do the program for the next academic year.
“We need funding to continue supporting the program here for the next academic year,” Merry said. “We need support from individuals and companies.”
To learn more about Steam generation, please visit the website linked here.
Ariel Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She is the current president of the university chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a former editor at KSU Sentinel. She enjoys music, reading poetry, nonfiction books, and collecting books and recordings. She enjoys all kinds of music, reading poetry and nonfiction books.