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Reaching and teaching

Addition of Spanish instructions, paper straws help GO STEM meet students’ needs

Published December 22, 2020
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Additional pandemic article:

LA GRANDE, OR – When the Greater Oregon (GO) STEM hub received nearly $20,000 in COVID-response grant funding, Pitsco Education quickly surfaced as a trusted provider of engaging STEM resources that would be effective with students either in school or at home – really, anywhere.

A perfect match! It was time to get Pitsco’s Try This kits to students thirsting for hands-on activities. Well, not quite. . . . GO STEM Executive Director David Melville and Program Director Donna Rainboth loved the Try This kits for their education value, simple materials, and connections with concepts employed at local businesses, but the popular kits wouldn’t meet the needs of all students in the region. Some of the kits contained plastic straws, and instructions were only in English.

Melville and Rainboth explained their concerns to Pitsco Sales Manager Brandon Brill.

“The population we’re serving in two of the counties is heavily migrant, and there are a lot of farm workers, manufacturing workers,” Melville said. “We saw a need for Spanish-translated information in the kits.” Brill and others at Pitsco concurred, and Spanish instructions were added to the kits.

As for the plastic straws, “We couldn’t in good conscience send out thousands and thousands of straws to go into the landfill,” Rainboth explained. “We want people to be aware. Pitsco stepped up and said they would phase out the plastic straws [and replace them with paper straws]. It’s amazing to me that you can have that kind of an impact working together and being aware.”

With those challenges quickly resolved, 6,000 Try This kits (2,000 each focused on engineering, straw structures, and parachutes) were shipped to eastern Oregon, and the real teamwork began. Among the partners involved in building and distributing boxes of supplies for fourth graders:

  • GO STEM hub
  • Pitsco Education
  • Eastern Oregon University, GO STEM’s fiscal agent
  • Oregon Community Foundation, which awarded the $19,950 COVID relief grant
  • Regional business and industry representatives on the GO STEM advisory board
  • Sodexo, which provided snacks for the boxes
  • Eastern Oregon University football players, who, instead of playing football on a Saturday in late October, worked in shifts to package the boxes of materials
  • InterMountain Education Service District, which delivered most of the STEM boxes to schools
  • Administrators and teachers

“Originally, we anticipated the kits would go to families right away,” Rainboth said, adding that all students were learning remotely at the time. However, schools began to open their doors to students. “Some kits will be used in schools and some at home. It’s up to the schools on how to do that.”

Harney ESD Superintendent Shannon Criss was one of the first to express gratitude to Rainboth for the STEM boxes. “What a wonderful opportunity for our kids, and I am using these kits as a sample with our teachers on how to create more hands-on learning for kids,” Criss said.

Try This kits are an economical solution at $2.25 each, allowing the GO STEM hub to serve a large number of students, but the academic richness and related free resources and activities from Pitsco most excited Rainboth, a lifelong educator and currently an assistant professor of education in the College of Education at EOU.

“I reached out to all the fourth-grade teachers and principals in the schools getting the kits and included a link to Pitsco’s Try This kits with additional resources, which are really interesting and inquiry based,” she said. “I wanted to make sure they knew about those as well as the instructions in the kits.”

Melville said a couple of counties in the GO STEM region were first on the list to be served. “Umatilla [County] had the highest incidence of COVID cases in the region, and most of Harney County has one-room school buildings, so access to Internet and resources is limited. We felt this would be a great way to provide resources.” Eventually, every public school fourth grader in the region received one of the STEM boxes.

Lisa Lathrop, fourth-grade teacher at Stella Mayfield Elementary in Elgin, Oregon, said the science-laden building kits have been a hit. “The students have really enjoyed them,” she said. “Students have said several times how much fun they are having.”

“I've always been a proponent of what I call student-centered learning. If the students are doing, they will learn it. If the teacher is doing, the kids are watching. . . . It has to be in the kids' hands.”

– Julie Riedel, principal, Somerset Intermediate School, Somerset, Texas

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