STEM steps up for middle school students


Up program partnered with STEM attend science day and learn from older students. (Melissa Bazany)

Hope College has developed an after-school program for middle school students called Step Up, a collaboration of the Children’s After School Achievement (CASA) and TRiO Upward Bound programs for elementary and high school students. It’s a successful initiative that is continuing to grow.

Initially enrolling five CASA students who were moving into middle school, Step Up has grown into a 50-student operation. The students meet for weekly homework and academic skill-building, as well as on- going opportunities including student-parent sessions, college visits and involvement in Tech Wizards (STEM- focused mentoring by 4H/MSU Extension).

Through a Michigan STEM Partnership grant this past year, Step Up has added to its weekly sessions by integrating STEM programming. Students are building vertical gardens this semester with mentors and have access to mathematics and science kits.

“The Step Up program is distinguished for its focus on academic mentoring, but reaches beyond simply doing homework,” said Regan Postma- Montaño, who leads the program as a full-time Faith in Youth AmeriCorps member. “Students eagerly work with their mentors to dream of the possibilities for their lives.”

One student from Step Up has recognized the program as “helping him succeed in middle school and going into high school and college,” while a mentor has valued “interacting with kids and being able to help them with their homework.”

The goal of the Step Up program is to provide students with the academic and emotional support they need to succeed in school and reach their educational and life goals.

Program progress is measured with pre- and post- student and teacher surveys, as well as student grade and attendance reports. The program provides an accessible training ground for college students who serve as mentors to the middle- schoolers.

Step Up also offers a four- week summer program focused on STEM explorations through the support of The Center for Exploratory Learning at Hope and the Michigan STEM Partnership grant and an award from ExxonMobil. The students interact with caring, consistent mentors who serve as role models, advocates and tutors.

“Step Up is a developing program with need areas including student transportation and staffing,” Postma-Montaño said. “The program continues to grow and we would love to add additional mentoring.”

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