Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation Announces STEM Centers for Eastern Shore Schools

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By Stefanie Jackson – The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has announced its commitment to put STEM centers (science, technology, engineering, and math centers) in all 13 elementary and middle schools in Accomack and Northampton counties, with seven of them opening this spring.

“We are thrilled to be bringing these STEM Centers to seven schools in Virginia. We’ve learned that getting STEM in front of kids in elementary and middle schools is critical. Thanks to great partners and community leaders, we are opening these STEM Centers at a rapid pace nationwide, and they are making a difference to students, teachers, and the schools,” said Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation co-founder Cal Ripken Jr. in a press release Dec. 8.

The project was made possible by donations totaling $210,000 to date. The donors have local ties and include the Eastern Shore of Virginia Community Foundation, Captains Cove Community Partners, the Franklin P. and Arthur W. Perdue Foundation, David Landsberger, John Custis, and Robert Smith.

In Accomack, five STEM labs will open this spring at Accawmacke, Kegotank, Pungoteague, and Chincoteague elementary schools and Chincoteague Middle School. In Northampton, two STEM centers will open at Kiptopeke and Occohannock elementary schools.

Kelsey Gaskins, of Kiptopeke Elementary School, and Philip Sweet, of Occohannock Elementary School, shared project details with the Northampton County School Board Dec. 9.

Each STEM lab will be a turnkey operation with everything provided to get the center up and running, including a day of training for the Talented and Gifted program teacher and one teacher from each grade level at each school.

Each lab will be stocked with various STEM kits:

  • The Bee-Bot kit contains a programmable floor robot that resembles a bumblebee and teaches basic principles of coding.
  • The Littlebits kit has blocks that snap together to teach block-based coding.
  • Makey Makey is an invention kit with simple circuit board components used to connect everyday objects to a computer. For example, a demonstration video shows a computer game controller with buttons made of play dough and a piano app being used with bananas for piano keys.
  • OzoBot is a small robot that is programmed using drawn lines and color codes.
  • The Snap Circuits kit has colorful components that snap onto a simple grid of rows and columns and functions like a circuit board in an everyday electronic device.
  • The Squishy Circuits kit teaches electrical engineering concepts like conductors and insulators, and it is used to make play dough sculptures that incorporate light, sound, or movement.

A full curriculum is provided to teachers, with five or more lessons accompanying each STEM product.

Funding will be available to replace broken parts in the STEM kits and update the equipment every four or five years as technology advances.

Furniture for each STEM lab includes a mobile workbench that can function as a charging station, seven cloverleaf tables, and 28 stackable chairs.

Equipment for each lab includes six Chromebook laptops and a 3D printer.

Kiptopeke’s and Occohannock’s STEM labs will be located in each school’s current science lab, across the hall from the computer lab.

The STEM labs were designed for students in grades K through 5, but Kiptopeke’s and Occohannock’s sixth graders also are welcome to use them.

The labs will be used by all students, not just those in TAG or a STEM program. Teachers will be able to sign up for designated times to take their classes to the STEM lab.

Superintendent Eddie Lawrence confirmed there also will be a STEM lab in the new Northampton Middle School wing that will be built as part of the Northampton High School modernization project.

A STEM lab grand opening will be held in Northampton in March 2022, at Kiptopeke Elementary, and in Accomack at an elementary school to be determined.

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