STEM CARES brings high-quality science and engineering lessons to rural youth

by Danielle Dewees | Nebraska Extension

Nebraska Extension
Nebraska Extension 4-H Youth Development recently completed its seventh season of STEM CARES programming.
November 13, 2023

Lincoln, Neb. —Nebraska Extension 4-H Youth Development recently completed its seventh season of STEM CARES programming. The program engaged about 1,500 youth across 21 counties in high-quality, hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math experiences. Nebraska Extension 4-H Youth Development engaged these youth through existing after school programs, day care centers, summer school programs, 4-H clubs, and libraries in rural communities across Nebraska. 

92% of children said they learned new things about science, and 81% said they learned new things about engineering. The program offered four curriculum options consisting of six lessons each. Curriculum options included Garden Engineering, The Power of the Wind, Mechanical Engineering, and Slime Engineers. The local program providers selected the curriculum topic based on their community's needs.

Inspiring young Nebraskans of all ages

STEM CARES implemented a multitiered model of education that engaged young people of all ages as learners, instructors, and leaders.

Local teens, hired as instructors, facilitated all the local programming. Before engaging with learners, teens participated in approximately six hours of training to grow their skills working with elementary students in informal settings. Teens developed a greater sense of community and explored potential careers. They gained real-world experience in child development, child care, or STEM-related careers, and many expressed an interest in teaching or working with youth as a significant part of their future career goals.

“Having this teaching experience and time working with youth were very beneficial to me as I am pursuing a degree to be an art teacher,” shared a program instructor from Hamilton County.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln undergraduate students served as mentors to the teen facilitators. As instructional leaders, the college students provided ongoing support, guidance, and reflection opportunities for the teens. Instructional leaders also participated in training and received continued support from Nebraska Extension 4-H Youth Development faculty. The undergraduate students developed their skills around facilitation, STEM-related content, and communications.

 "My instructional leaders were very helpful in many ways, but I think the most helpful thing they provided for my learning was the way they taught," shared one teen instructor. "They made sure we understood the lessons they were teaching us, and if we didn't, they would explain it in a way that could help us understand it."

Supporting rural communities

The goal of the STEM CARES program was to re-invigorate rural communities following COVID-19. Working collaboratively, Nebraska Extension 4-H Youth Development and Beyond School Bells designed the program to address the needs of rural child care centers and program providers. These sites, which are often understaffed, were provided with paid and trained teen instructors. The program also offered high-quality STEM learning experiences not typically available through out-of-school programming in rural communities. The program was free for all parents, schools, and partner organizations through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic (CARES) Act funding.

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