by BRANDON KATHMAN
The Boy Scouts of America has launched Florida’s first STEM Scouts Lab in Spring Hill for elementary-aged children.
STEM Scouts is a pilot program intended to introduce young people to science, technology, engineering, and math through experiential activities. The program couples “traditional scouting values” with experimentation and discovery, according to the Boy Scouts of America.
“STEM Scouts isn't just an academic STEM program,” Mallory Davis, the national STEM Scouts curriculum specialist, said. “STEM Scouts teaches a lifestyle of curiosity and bravery to try new things. It's equipped with activities for social-emotional learning and development.”
Spring Hill’s Lab 404 can still go camping and enjoy the outdoors, but weekly meetings focus on various scientific disciplines, allowing children to lead their own research teams and conduct their own experiments. As a coed program, both boys and girls are welcomed to participate in Lab activities.
“Its aim is to raise strong leaders with integrity who show compassion to others, grit to keep pushing themselves towards growth, and curiosity to always keep learning,” Davis said. “If we can teach Scouts that, they can emotionally and mentally work through life, real life, when faced with it.”
Lab 404 received its initial funding through a contribution by FLIR Systems, a multinational tech company that specializes in thermal cameras and imaging sensors. FLIR’s donation covered registration fees and distinctive lab coats for all the group’s members and adult leaders. The Lab is hosted by its chartering partner, the Hernando County Boys and Girls Club, at their Westside facility. Kai Allen, Kathryn Sharkey, George Kistner, Dante Oliver, Giovanni Lombardo, and Nicholas Hegenauer made up the first class of youth to join the program.
“It’s for children who want to learn and build things,” George Kistner, 10, said. “I look forward to learning new things every week.”
The Lab meets every Friday from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Parents of participants said their children love the program and look forward to the meetings all week.
“He is always reminding me on Thursday that STEM is tomorrow,” Yvonne Caskey said of her son, Dante. “He loves the projects that the group does and the hands-on activities.”
Some of the Lab’s most recent modules introduced the Scouts to paleontology and circuity. In the “Dinomite” program, the children learned how fossils form and were even able to practice the delicate process of excavating bones from sediment. In “How Things Work,” the youth were taught about circuits by electrician and lab volunteer Andrew Allen, harnessing energy to power sirens and launch small helicopters.
“I truly believe kids will absorb what we teach them,” Caskey said. “However, when we present them with information just above their ‘normal’ level, we ask them to strengthen their minds, and they grow in knowledge and in confidence.”
For the duration of the pandemic, the boys and girls of Lab 404 will take due safety precautions while meeting. Brenda Dupler, a grandmother of one participant, made special masks emblazoned with the STEM Scouts insignia for all members. Scouts work in small groups and take care to ensure the facility is clean and sterilized.
“STEM Lab is making kids better at science every Friday,” Kai Allen, 10, said.
The STEM Scouts mission statement outlines a goal “to help young people grow in character and skills as they explore their curiosity about STEM fields.” While the curriculum presents career opportunities in STEM, it’s primary intent is to be challenging and fun.
“Hopefully these young people either stay in or return to the area to make their living,” Dwayne Jones, Director of Field Service for the local council, said. “Their character will make a positive impact on their communities for years and years to come.”
The Labs’ next module is titled “Coding with Ozobots” and promises fun with robotics. According to Lab Manager Cari Allen, limited slots are available for additional registrants. Interested parents should contact the Council STEM Executive at (352) 459-9375.