LANCASTER, TX – Charles Richardson has taught thousands
of students during his 17 years facilitating Pitsco Education
STEM labs, the last six years in Lancaster ISD south of Dallas.
And he’s diligently explained to all his students how the labs
can ignite a spark that eventually burns a trail to a satisfying
and successful career.
But it’s up to them to seize that opportunity as they
explore and experience careers through hands-on activities.
“The lab is like a slingshot – it gets them ready. And if a
kid thinks they can do something, guess what they do? They
go and do it,” Richardson said. “It’s the same when we take
them to competitions. We go to TSA (Technology Student
Association). We go to Texas Alliance of Minority Engineers.
We do the National Society of Black Engineers. But I’m telling
you, it’s about the labs. The reason I’ve taught this long is
because I believe in the labs.”
The Pitsco labs in Lancaster led to the creation of a STEM
club for students in Grades 6 and up. That group recently
parlayed their hands-on skills into a project restoring an
airplane used in Wings of Hope humanitarian missions.
Every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for several months, a
large group of STEM club members, under the watchful eyes
of teachers and aircraft mechanics, worked on a Cessna 182
single-engine airplane at Lancaster Regional Airport.
“The kids took it all apart to get it ready to be refurbished.
The engine was sent off to the engine shop,” Richardson said.
“Then when it came back, they put it all back together – wings
and everything – to make it flight ready.”
MEMORABLE – AND VALUABLE – EXPERIENCE
Not only did all students gain practical experience, but the
females were able to disprove the preconceived notion that
STEM and engineering are primarily a male’s domain.
“It made me understand that this is not as hard as people
made it to be for girls to do something like this,” said Jaycee, a
10th grader. “You just have to get out there and try to learn it.
It was like a once-in-a-lifetime thing because we got to do this
through the school.”
Jaycee’s classmate Elizabeth chimed in, “It really does not matter if you
are a girl or a guy, you are still a person. If you want to be a mechanical
engineer, building planes or working on cars, you can do it.”
Lancaster ISD’s Executive Director of Academics and Innovation Kyndra
Johnson said the Pitsco STEM labs have been key to opening the eyes of
female and male students alike to the career possibilities that lie ahead.
“Authentic learning activities in STEM subjects, coupled with students’
matriculation through our STEM labs is significantly important, not only in
projects such as our recent aircraft build, but also in their future pursuits
THE LAB ADVANTAGE
Richardson’s first foray with Pitsco was a Modules lab at the middle level,
and for the past several years he has headed up a Pitsco lab course titled
Principles of Applied Engineering at Lancaster High School. The airplane
restoration is the type of real-world project students need after they’ve had
their STEM appetite whetted in the Pitsco labs.
“I call this ‘bridging to the future.’ Let’s go try this out. Let’s do an
airplane project,” Richardson said. “The confidence factor, knowing that they
can achieve, communicate, collaborate, problem solve, and think critically
– you don’t gain that just anywhere. With the lab, you have an advantage.
These labs are where kids gain the skills and abilities and knowledge to use
their minds and their hands so when you take them outside the curriculum,
they can do those kinds of projects.”
The STEM club’s success has even made it cool for students to be
academically oriented, Richardson said. “You get all this working together,
and then you have STEM kids running around the halls.”