Garfield, Discovery Center partner to promote STEM

After something like a year of planning, the big night had finally arrived.

On Feb. 6, the Discovery Center of Idaho and Boise’s Garfield Elementary School partnered to host a STEM learning night for Garfield students and their families.

The event went far beyond the average after-hours field trip, Garfield teacher and STEM coordinator Sonia Galaviz said.

For one, Galaviz said, the event was a chance to chip away at the “opportunity gap,” that Garfield students face. Most of the school’s students are from low-income households, she explained, and many come from otherwise underserved populations and might not ever get the chance to experience the Discovery Center.

Beyond that, Galaviz said, the night was a chance to model how a school, a community partner and families could come together to foster student growth.

“We all had the same goal in mind: To make it a transformative experience for Garfield families,” Galaviz said. “And I think we were successful.”

A key to the STEM night, Galaviz said, was engaging the families of Garfield’s students. “Family is the number one influence on a child’s aspirations,” she said. “To bypass the home or influence of the family is a missed opportunity.”

Nearly 500 people showed up to the Discovery Center for the STEM night, Galaviz said, and most of the participants told organizers they’d never visited the discovery center before.

To make the night a success, organizers strategized for months on how they should get families to the Discovery Center and make them feel comfortable in the unfamiliar space. During the STEM event, organizers continuously bussed students to and from the school and made sure their students staying at the homeless shelter had a way to get to the science center, too. Galaviz worked with Discovery Center staff on cultural sensitivity training, she said, and the STEM night included dinner and translators for families who needed interpretation help.

“That’s what made the event so special,” Galaviz said. “It wasn’t just Garfield night at Discovery Center of Idaho. They had to change what they were doing to meet our needs as a community.”

Garfield Elementary students and their families participate in a STEM night at Discovery Center of Idaho.

Jessica Burke, Education Director for the center, said the staff of the Discovery Center had discussed how they could better reach underserved populations before they started working with Galaviz about a year ago. The Garfield STEM partnership, Burke said, was a “way to take action.”

“As a cultural institution and a place of learning that is here for the community, I think it’s really critical for us to truly be there for the whole community,” said Jessica Burke, education director at DCI. “Recognizing that we are a very diverse community with folks from all kinds of backgrounds and interest levels…regardless, this is a place for everyone.”

Families who went to the Discovery Center got return passes so they can keep exploring the facility and Burke said return pass holders have already started coming back.

A young boy plays at the Discovery Center of Idaho during STEM night.

Participants also got a STEM kit with at-home science experiments, Galaviz said, and this spring she plans to ask those families to come back and participate in another STEM event with the Discovery Center at Garfield Elementary to continue exploring and engaging with STEM.

“I take education so seriously,” Galaviz said. “The experiences that they have and the opportunities that these children have now will change their lives.”

Garfield Elementary students at Discovery Center of Idaho for STEM night.

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