UMSL students spearhead family-focused STEM Night, draw 700 to local elementary school

by | Apr 6, 2017

The seven College of Education students capped off their student teaching at Zitzman Elementary with a night of science-fueled fun for the entire community.
UMSL, STEM Night students

UMSL College of Education students (from left) Brooke Elsner, Amy Husenica, Danielle Mueller, Ashtyn Boedy (in front), Megan Tate, Kara Sneeringer and Adam Vinson wore their white lab coats throughout the day leading up to Zitzman Elementary’s STEM Night to help get their students excited about the evening’s activities. (Photos courtesy of Danielle Mueller and Megan Tate)

What do a great horned owl, a bee keeper and a scientist from Monsanto all have in common?

They were each special guests at Zitzman Elementary in Pacific, Missouri, on March 30 – along with over 700 local children, parents, teachers and community members.

The festivities –  a STEM Night brought to fruition with the help of seven College of Education students from the University of Missouri–St. Louis – also featured food trucks, other science and nature experts and a plethora of kid- and family-friendly activities aimed at fostering curiosity and knowledge around all things science, technology, engineering and math.

World Bird Sactuary, Zitzman

Avian experts from the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Missouri, introduced several owl friends to the curious students at Zitzman.

Student teachers Ashtyn Boedy, Brooke Elsner, Amy Husenica, Danielle Mueller, Kara Sneeringer, Megan Tate and Adam Vinson designed the STEM night – with help from principal Ketina Armstrong – as their senior project. They have each been pursuing their bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a certification in special education through UMSL’s off-campus program in Wildwood, Missouri, and will graduate this May.

“We thought long and hard about what we were going to do,” said Tate, noting that she and her peers really wanted to come up with something that would not only be fun for the elementary students but also make a long-lasting difference at Zitzman and in the community at large. “We came up with the idea to do a fun family night to encourage families to come to the school and also to spearhead additional student learning.”

Such ambitions were right in line with one of Zitzman’s most important missions, according to Principal Armstrong, who noted that the school had had other reading- and writing-driven activities recently and was looking to add something science- and math-focused.

STEM Night, duct tape

First-grade teacher Meagan Thate (taped to wall) was on the lookout for any young students who wanted to explore the sticky scientific properties of duct tape.

“One of our goals is to increase the home and school connections that are so vital to children’s learning,” Armstrong said. “We consistently focus on building curriculum and activities that students and parents can do together both inside and outside of the classroom. Knowing this, the student teachers really took our goals and school needs to heart and ran with them. They worked with lead teachers and members of our parent-teacher organization to make STEM the theme, and I must say, they did a fantastic job.”

The UMSL student teachers contacted the World Bird Sanctuary whose team offered a daytime assembly full of feathered friends to get the students excited for the evening’s activities.

They asked parents and fellow teachers to host interactive, hands-on stations that featured everything from Monsanto’s germination necklaces to toothpick and marshmallow engineering feats to an investigation of the curiously strong properties of duct tape – a particularly popular option which kept one brave teacher stuck to a hallway wall.

STEM Night, parent feedback

Keeping families involved in student learning and finding curriculum-based activities that can carry over from classroom to home are essential missions at Zitzman. The student teachers kept this at the center of their focus as they designed the night.

Finally, they recruited the local food truck vendors who not only took the pressure of worrying about providing dinner off of the parent’s plates but also brought a fundraising element to the evening.

“A portion of the proceeds from the trucks will go toward future math and science efforts,” explained Mueller. “It’s our hope that this night will continue for years to come.”

That hope is very likely a reality.

Armstrong said she’s received such positive feedback from the community – including some lovely phone calls from both parents and grandparents – that Zitzman is already planning on continuing the activity next year.

As for the UMSL student teachers, they say they learned just as much as their younger students and got to witness firsthand the power of what happens when a whole team of engaged citizens – from educators and administrators to parents and outside volunteers – comes together for the sake of education.

“Working with children has always been something I’ve loved,” said Sneeringer, “but it was so great to see families working together, having fun and learning through it all. STEM Night was a huge success for the entire Zitzman community. It was so rewarding to be a part of something this big.”

Mueller adds that the experience will definitely be something she will carry with her as she looks forward to graduation and begins seeking out her own classroom to lead.

“I am applying to many school districts, but I would love to either end up at my old elementary school with the teachers who first inspired me or right back here at Zitzman with the teachers who have taught me so much, the students I’ve grown to adore and the principal who is doing amazing things with this school.”

The UMSL Experience

Jami Hirsch

Jami Hirsch