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YSA STEM Fest Celebrates Achievement Through Service-Learning

by Youth Service America

On Aug. 1, 13 teachers gathered at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for STEM Fest, a panel discussion highlighting effective practices in STEM-based service-learning. Convened by Youth Service America (YSA), STEM Fest celebrated the teachers' achievements in implementing YSA's STEMester of Service, a program that introduced extended service-learning to middle school students to learn science, technology, engineering, and math by addressing local environmental issues.

A representative from RMC Research, independent evaluators of YSA programs, presented results from STEMester of Service: students had large and statistically significant gains in academic engagement, academic competence, workforce readiness, social responsibility, and STEM measures in contrast to comparison students. (Follow this link to read the full public information brief.)

Though the hard data told an impressive story of student achievement, it was the teachers' testimonials that moved the audience of business, education, government, and service leaders. Joshua Johnson, a middle school science teacher from City Center Public Charter School in Washington, DC, talked about how his learning-garden project has spread to his entire school, and shared the personal and academic insights that his students gained. Watch Joshua and other STEM Fest educators talk about their “a-ha Moments" in the video below.

"I saw people who wouldn't have the opportunity to become leaders step up and become engaged," said Adrienne Jones, who teaches seventh and eighth graders in the Higher Achievement Metro DC program.

Kumar Garg of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who leads President Obama's "Educate to Innovate" initiative, congratulated the educators and spoke about the great importance that the Administration places on STEM education, saying, "Thank you! We know these successes don't happen on their own. ... I want to let you know how highly the President thinks of your work."

STEM Fest marked the conclusion of the first three years of YSA's STEMester of Service, which was funded by a three-year, $1 million grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) as part of a White House initiative to expand STEM-based service-learning.

Addressing the teachers, John Kelly, Director of Partnerships and Engagement at CNCS, said, "Congratulations. You did it! You showed that service-learning isn't just a strategy for civic engagement. You showed it's a strategy for academic achievement. You opened your students' eyes to what's possible. … Thanks to YSA — with service-learning, no one does it better."

STEM Fest was co-hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for a Competitive Workforce, which promotes the rigorous educational standards and effective job training systems needed to preserve the strength of America's greatest economic resource -- its workforce.

"Educators and employers are searching for ways to better prepare young people for STEM-based careers, and we know that service-learning is a proven strategy to engage kids to be good students, good workers, and good citizens in their communities," remarked Steven A. Culbertson, president and CEO of YSA. "These teachers and their students are testaments to the student and community growth that are possible through high-quality service-learning programs."

Reflecting on her experience with STEMester of Service, Brooklyn-based science teacher Deborah Sarria said, "I learned as much as my students did. … I can't wait to go back and do it again."

Melodee Hughes of Alton School District agreed, marveling that "the whole thing was just mind-blowing."

Read more about recent STEMester projects, watch videos from STEMester of Service teachers and their students, and view a STEM Fest photo gallery on YSA's Facebook page.

Celebrating 25 years of youth changing the world, Youth Service America improves communities by increasing the number and the diversity of young people, ages 5 to 25, serving in substantive roles. Through international campaigns such as Global Youth Service Day and Semester of Service; funding and grants programs; resource development; and training opportunities, YSA promotes a global culture of engaged youth committed to a lifetime of service, learning, leadership, and achievement.

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