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Boy Scouts send 'STEM in a Box' to schools

When COVID canceled after-school clubs and camps, the Boy Scouts found a different way to reach students.

DENVER — Making learning memorable is the goal of all teachers, including Sofia Williams. But for her fifth graders at McElwain Elementary School in Adams County, the pandemic has made that a challenge.

"Oh, it's been a roller coaster," Williams said.

Before COVID-19, Williams would partner with the Denver Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America to host an after-school STEM club.

"Because it provides so many different opportunities between mathematics and science and engineering and they provide these wonderful kits and opportunities that our kids might not be able to explore," Williams said.

When COVID canceled those clubs and camps, Deputy Scout Executive Mike Fifhause said the Boy Scouts organized a different idea.

"This particular effort is called STEM in a Box," Fifhause said. "With the challenges school districts and schools, in particular, have faced this year without enrichment activities or even hands-on activities, this was an innovative way we found to deliver STEM activities to students."

Fifhause said the Boy Scouts sent STEM in a Box kits to schools around the Denver Metro area with a focus on campuses that serve mostly lower-income families. The boxes contain six different science-related, hands-on activities to create memorable learning experiences in lieu of the normal after-school clubs or camps.

"We've had to make as many adjustments as we can to provide (a) strong program," Fifhause said.

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Sara Olson is the principal at McElwain Elementary. She said this type of partnership with community organizations is essential.

"Our kids don't typically have those opportunities," Olson said. "A lot of them are living in apartments and don't get their hands on some of the equipment that's been provided from the Boy Scouts."

Olson said the school and the families usually cannot afford access to the materials in STEM in a Box. The scouts provide it free of charge thanks in large part to donors like The Enger Family, PDC Energy, and Lockheed Martin.

"It's very important to the Boy Scouts of America organization," Fifhause said. "We want to make sure that every youth has access to these tools, these resources, and the character development programs that we offer."

Williams opened the boxes and was teaching her kids how to program a little robot using code.

"It's just a different world and I think they're just going to need to know programming," Williams said. "Most importantly, though, I think they need to explore that passion of it."

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Olson said the active learning aspect is key.

"You will quickly realize that them sitting at seats and just listening opposed to doing doesn't work very well," Olson said.

Fifhause said after the pandemic, the Boy Scouts plan to revive the in-person clubs and camps, but will still send STEM in a Box to schools.

"This is an opportunity for them to learn something new that could become a lifelong activity or even a profession or career for them," Fifhause said.

Williams said it gives them a memorable lesson.

"It's fun for me to be able to see those little minds and I see them as the future," Williams said.

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