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It's "Up, Up and Away" for STEM After-School Programs

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015   

OLYMPIA, Wash. - To make the point that after-school programs that teach technology are paying off for kids, a group of high school students will bring a science project to Olympia on Wednesday.

The young women, all Latinas, are from the Walla Walla School District, where they've been collaborating since junior high in the FORWARD Space Project. The students plan to give a presentation and then launch a sophisticated weather balloon for Gov. Jay Inslee and state legislators.

Brent Cummings, director of 21st Century Community Learning Center programs in Walla Walla Public Schools, says the goal has been to open up new interests and career options for the girls.

"These are the right kids we want to serve," he says. "Our Hispanic demographic is one of our fastest-growing demographics, and the need for STEM professionals is one of the fastest-growing job sectors. If we can bring those two together, we can really address a need in our country."

And it isn't just any balloon the girls are launching - it's a balloon built to ascend as high as 20 miles into the atmosphere. Cummings says there often isn't enough time for in-depth projects like these during a regular school day, so a growing number of after-school programs are filling the high tech learning gaps - and they need more funding to accommodate more kids.

Cummings says the girls have equipped the weather balloon with a flight computer, tracking equipment, a GPS unit and a camera.

"We'll get some good weather data and some good footage," he says. "The data is good for us from a scientific perspective to understand the upper atmosphere, and the videos and views of earth are absolutely amazing."

Cummings says the best after-school programs build on classroom concepts, but give students a chance for more hands-on experience. He notes there's a shortage of programs in the state.

The acronym STEM stands for Science, Technology, Education and Math.

The presentation and launch start at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday at the Cherberg Senate Office Building in Olympia.


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