Full STEAM Ahead: Delivering Education Programming to Girls’ Doorsteps

800 450 Stroud Water Research Center

Fondly known for its groundhogs and Valentines, February also recognizes Black and female trailblazers in freshwater science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) during a month-long celebration of Black history and February 11’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

This month and year-round, Stroud Center educators are amplifying these voices with a new pandemic education model delivered right to girls’ doorsteps: “Full STEAM Ahead!” remote learning kits.

With funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Girls-in-STEM Education Programs Fund, Stroud Center educators have engaged local K-12 girls in pandemic education models like virtual stream-to-the-screen education, physically distant boots-in-the-water education, and on-the-water canoeing watershed education.

Now, in the eleventh hour — or, more accurately, the eleventh month — since COVID-19 was declared an emergency disaster in Pennsylvania, educators are using at-home, fully remote education to reach more girls from high-needs, marginalized, and Environmental Justice (EJ) communities. 

“The transition to a largely digital learning landscape has weighed heavily on our youngest global citizens,” says Watershed Education Specialist Mandy Nix. “But pandemic education models have been especially taxing for youth without the economic opportunities, technological capacity, and systemic supports needed to succeed at virtual and hybrid learning. Just as you can’t drive a car without fuel, you can’t authentically connect a child to fresh water without addressing their unique learning barriers.”

To help bridge these barriers, each kit is outfitted with freshwater-focused STEAM activities that can be completed without professional instruction, advanced technologies, English language fluency, or access to high-quality green spaces.

The at-home STEAM experiences range from painting freshwater-themed sun catchers, to crafting case-building caddisfly larvae from natural materials, to creating beeswax food wraps as sustainable alternatives to kitchen plastics.

Each kit also includes a triple-layer cotton face mask sewn by education and research staff.

“As COVID-19 cases soar in our communities, every girl needs access to functional masks and protective gear,” says Ecosystems Ecology Research Technician Stephanie Bernasconi, who has sewn over 100 face masks to help girls safely explore nearby nature during COVID-19.

“I’ve been involved with Girl Scouts for more than 20 years as a Gold Award recipient, troop leader, and education programming provider. These face masks may be the most practical armor I’ve ever equipped girls with.”

Teachable moments are quite literally woven into this “armor,” with each mask sewn on thematic fabric like freshwater fish, dragonflies, or diverse girl scientists. The kits take this sense of belonging even farther with STEAM career spotlights, or bilingual handouts on intersectional leaders in fields like environmental entrepreneurship, entomology, and engineering.

“Truly responsive education gives children both mirrors and windows — mirrors that reflect a child’s own identity, culture, and lived experience, and windows that expose them to identities different than their own,” explains Nix, who says this representation is especially important when serving EJ audiences and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

“These youth have the most personal stake in issues like climate change and pollution that disproportionately impact their communities, yet they may have gone their entire lives without seeing themselves reflected in outdoor leadership or STEM careers. As educators, we must provide mirrors whenever possible, while also empowering kids to carve out windows that may have never existed before.”

The kits are arriving to high-needs girls at a timely moment. As we celebrate Wangari Maathai, Ruth Patrick, and other Black and female voices who forever changed the narrative of fresh water, the Stroud Center is inspiring a new wave of diverse leaders to author their own stories.

Help us create new education programs and expand science beyond the classroom! Donate to the Future of Fresh Water Initiative and designate your gift to the Environmental Education Fund. Thanks to a $50,000 Challenge Match Grant by the Colket Family Foundation every gift will be doubled!

Special thank you to Bee Our Guest for providing reduced-cost to no-cost materials for Bee the Change for Clean Water, a remote education activity in which girls crafted their own beeswax food wraps to create real-world change. Based in Kennett Square, Bee Our Guest provides quality, sustainable, and natural products that extend food freshness, reduce single-use plastic, and support the future of fresh water.