STEAM camp attracts children from the region | Local News

To some youths, going to summer camp involves riding horses and sleeping out in a tent under the stars.

But more than 60 youngsters from throughout Western Pennsylvania got a taste of a different kind this week when the New Castle Area School District hosted its Tinker Tank STEAM Summer Camp at the junior senior high school.

The first of the two-day event educated teachers from various districts about how to apply STEAM to different learning activities in various labs. During the second day, the teachers used what they learned to teach the children in grades 3 through 9 with hands-on instruction.

The educational camp was sponsored by the Grable Foundation of Pittsburgh, funded by a $51,000 grant.

Signup for the event was free, and the 67 students who attended were from as far away as Pittsburgh and from all over western Pennsylvania, including Butler, Allegheny and Mercer counties. About a third of the students were from New Castle, and there were participants from other school districts within Lawrence County.

A visit to some of the classrooms showed that children excitedly were learning how to apply simple principals and logic to every day life, science and technology, including working with robotics and electronics.

The different workshops included laser engraving, Circuitry Kids, 3D printing and designing software, graphic design and T-shirt printing, programmable robots, other robotics, Novel Engineering and Maker learning, simple robotics, Cricut vinyl cutting and T-shirt making and Tinkering Around with Treats.

In the latter station, Keir Walker Jr., a fifth grader at New Castle, and Carter Zackerl, a fifth grader from the Greenville Area School District, explained what they learned about the melting point of different types of chocolate, how to temper it and why melts in one’s mouth at body temperature. The scientific candy experiment allowed the students to dip rice cereal treats, pretzels and Oreos into chocolate to coat them, then place them in the freezer to harden. They also learned to make candy but putting the melted chocolate into car-shaped molds.

Shelly Bucci, a science teacher at the Novel Engineering station, explained that her students were learning about six different types of bridges. As an experiment, they built their own small bridges out of straw, yarn, paper clips and tape, with the goal of creating a bridge strong enough to hold 100 pennies, Bucci said.

Teacher Diane McGaffic, who led the “Circuitry Kids” lab, educated the students about electricity and circuitry, allowing them to build a board with string and a small colored bulb that lit up.

Teacher Jenna Mozzoccio oversaw a simple robotics lab, where students rolled light-up Ozobots through a maze using Bluetooth connections.

Gregg Behr, executive director of the Grable Foundation of Pittsburgh, said the New Castle district was chosen for the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) workshop grant based on prior relations he’s had with leaders of the district.

Behr, who has been in his position for 16 years, explained, “The Grable Foundation is a private charitable foundation that supports kids and learning throughout southwestern Pennsylvania. We’ve come to respect and admire all sorts of people in the New Castle Area School District over a number of years.

“What New Castle has is an extraordinary group of educators,” he continued, and additionally, its leaders, who have included now-retired Superintendent Debbie DeBlasio, plus Emily Sanders, Tracy Yeropoli, Tabitha Marino and other teachers in the district.

“There’s a whole cadre of people who are attentive to great innovative learning, to make sure New Castle area students benefit from some great educational opportunities,” Behr said. “When you have a group working this way, it’s a genuine privilege to be able to support a school district like this.”

He added that the grant funding doesn’t just benefit the New Castle district, rather, it benefits teachers and students from many other districts who participated.

Before the pandemic, Behr was able to visit New Castle’s Tinker Tank, “and I remember it was a fantastically designed professional opportunity for teachers both in New Castle and other districts. There are teachers and students here from Butler, Seneca, South Fayette and Bethel Park,” he said.

Some students also were attending this week from Greenville and Slippery Rock.

“New Castle has become a beacon for education in Western Pennsylvania, for the extraordinary work they do,” Behr continued.

The teachers, on the first day of the camp were learning as well, then they had the opportunity not only to apply what they learned to students at the camp, but they also took back instruction that they might integrate into their own classrooms, he said.

Sanders served as camp director. She has been the district’s director of academics and innovation for the past eight years. She is leaving the district this week, having accepted a position of assistant superintendent in the Beaver Area School District. Her position will be filled by Tabitha Marino, who currently is the sixth grade principal. She and Yeropoli were also heavily involved with the event.

New Castle’s seventh and eighth grade science teacher, Marianna Carrizales, was the camp coordinator.

The Grable Foundation’s mission is to help youths become independent, contributing members of society by supporting programs critical to their successful development. It was founded in 1976 by Minnie K. Grable, widow of Pittsburgh business leader Errett M. Grable, who founded and was a lifetime director of Rubbermaid Inc. His company grew to become an internationally known housewares company.

During Mrs. Grable’s lifetime, most of her personal philanthropy focused on scholarships to help young people enroll in vocational training. She continued her gifts to The Grable Foundation until she died at age 100 in December 1990, when assets from her estate were transferred to the foundation.


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