By Jennifer Esterline, Executive Director, KDK-Harman Foundation
So it’s that time of year again, back to school! Having a school-age child for the first time (my son, Gabriel started kindergarten this year), as well as remembering back on my own childhood school days, I have always associated back to school with new beginnings. I also have a whole new appreciation for what back to school really means: getting up VERY early, making sure the kids have a nutritious breakfast and get to school on time, checking folders, assessment tests, teacher-parent conferences, and of course, making sure everyone gets a good night’s rest to prepare for another exciting day! As hard as it was to watch my little one walk into the classroom without me for the first time, his back pack on his back, giving me a self-conscious wave as he shyly said goodbye, I knew in my heart what great adventures await him and it made me smile.
In the same spirit of new beginnings, KDK-Harman Foundation is undergoing some transformation as well. As most of you know, I have recently relocated to Brownsville, TX to reunite my family and am now working for the Foundation remotely. My wonderful colleague, Erica Ekwurzel, also recently left her post at the Foundation to begin her new career in nonprofit consulting. Although the Foundation is currently exploring what direction it will go in as we move forward, we are certain of one thing: the Foundation will continue to do great work in relationship with its community partners for many years to come.
New beginnings can be difficult—change sometimes feels uncomfortable and the unknown can be scary at times—but new beginnings are filled with promise, potential, and adventure. But much like I feel about my five-year-old heading off to kindergarten for the first time, I am confident that these new beginnings for the Foundation include many great adventures as well.
So welcome back students, teachers, and families! And welcome new students and families experiencing school for the first time! We at the KDK-Harman Foundation are confident that the new school year will bring many great adventures for all of us, and we are excited to share them with our many friends and colleagues as they unfold. Stay tuned to our blog…..
What memories come immediately to mind when you think of summer? Playing Marco Polo with friends in a pool, eating cold popsicles on a hot summer day, attending fun camps where you made new friendships, pushed your curiosity to new limits and well, just be a kid! As we reflect on our summer experiences, KDK-Harman was certainly in camp mode - visiting over half a dozen camps - and boy, learning has never been so much fun.
As summer campers, we viewed elementary-school children in the cockpit of flight simulators testing how math equations govern how aircrafts fly to middle-school students taking on the roles of civil engineers in drafting, constructing and testing the strengths of bridges they built to 4th & 5th grade girls cracking cases using virtual 3D design and discovering how forensics solves the mystery.
We invite you to visit our YouTube channel to get a behind-the-scenes view of our summer learning tour. The footage, all based in Central Texas, not only captures the peaked engagement of STEM summer campers, but is sure to peak your interest, too. Hats off to all our community partners listed below for providing high-quality enrichment programs ensuring the only "summer slide" Central Texas kids partake in are the ones that stretch their minds!
KDK-Harman is nearing completion of their 2012-grantee site visits, which will end this month. Since STEM is our main focus, we of course, were interested in seeing how the organizations we fund are using their grants to educate our communities’ children in STEM focused programs. All the organizations that we have visited had the same goal in teaching STEM, but not all the programs had the same ideas in their educational/curricular activities.
We have seen under-privileged children ages 5 to 14 that would have not had this opportunity of summer learning, if not for grants given to these organizations, the programs that we witnessed educated these children in the following:
flying airplanes in flight simulators, enhancing their critical thinking, effective communication skills and decision-making skills,
how to build different types of bridges, through drawings, creating models and testing their bridge’s strengths, field-trip to different bridges in the Austin area,
building rockets out of milk cartons,
creating 3D models from their computers that hook up to 3D Styrofoam printers and seeing/touching what they’ve created,
building robots and testing them with programs they have written,
learning about ultra-sound and performing ultra-sounds on their classmates,
learning about the tools used in surgical procedures and what some of the instruments are used for during a procedure,
what a paralegal does for an attorney
The above is just a short list of what our organization witnessed through our site visits. These programs are the building blocks or the seeds planted into the students’ minds that engage all these children into science, math, technology and math in the context of the education program that they signed up for and will hopefully peak their interest in learning more about future careers in their communities that might be available to them if they decided to further their education in a trade or college.
The importance of conducting site visits is a very important part to the grantor’s process because it gives them a sense of how the grant is helping the organizations; it is also confirming that the grant fits with the goals of their organization mission. The grant comes full circle at the end of the site visits when we can then look back to our vision to make sure that our foundation is doing as promised, which is the following:
Our vision is to inspire educational success and life-long learning. We focus on:
serving economically disadvantaged Central Texas students and their families to help them achieve educational success;
transforming their lives from poverty to financial independence and enabling a better life for future generations;
providing financial and capacity building resources to education focused nonprofits, schools and collaborations; and
creating a culture of giving excellence in our community through leadership, high-engagement, advocacy and innovation
It’s noon on Thursday and the elementary students at Southwest Key’s STEM Summer Institute are eagerly anticipating the afternoon’s activity. This week’s theme – Living Systems – has given them the opportunity to watch caterpillars mature, cocoon, and develop into butterflies. Today, a small flock of fluttering, newly-emerged butterflies await their release into the world from their netted captivity.
Teacher Jessica Lagalo verbally refreshes her young students’ memory on the caterpillar life cycle that they’ve witnessed this week before asking for volunteers to release the butterflies. Hands shoot up, noise dissipates, and the students look up at their teacher with angelic expectation, hoping to be among the chosen. With the signature diplomacy of a seasoned teacher, Lagalo chooses three students whom she identifies before the class as having been particularly helpful, industrious, and kind to others this week. These three are carefully handed the enclosed butterfly nets, and the students shuffle out the door to the garden.
Once outside, the students gather around a green patch and, one-by-one, Lagalo helps the students release the butterflies from their makeshift homes. Nets unzipped, she and her student helpers carefully pat around the sides of the containers and the butterflies are unleashed: some zooming to freedom, others flitting to the safety of a nearby bush, and a few simply flopping onto the ground, awaiting careful pick-up from students who want to save them from being “squashed.”
Butterfly catharsis completed, the students line up to go back inside the classroom. This week’s lesson on the life cycle of these tiny creatures is sure to stick with them, as reminders will undoubtedly flap their wings before the students every once and a while.
It was a bustling Tuesday during the third week of the East Austin College Prep Summer STEM Instituteat Southwest Key, and rightfully so. The day’s activity was to dissect sheep brains. As students alternated between rowdy excitement, squeamishness, and genuine curiosity, teachers Pat Radzik and Cory Kalisky took charge. After doling out aprons, explaining the use of various tools, and placing a vacuum-sealed sheep brain at every table, Radzik and Kalisky roamed the room to help students make sense of their instructional packets for dissection.
After exclamations of being covered in “brain juice” and playful disagreements over who got to use the scalpel first, a semi-calm began to fall over the room. The students, though baffled at some of the instructions, were intent on disassembling those sheep brains. The occasional request for teacher assistance was met with Mr. K’s gentle insistence: “You’re scientists! The instructions are in the packet, so follow them to the best of your abilities.”
Taking the instructional lead was Ms. Radzik. Coming from a different district, she's very impressed with the student engagement at the STEM Summer Institute. “Kids at [East Austin College Prep] I find exceptional,” Radzik says, “and the students from other schools are blending in very well also. It’s a total 180 degree turn-around from where I was teaching before this.”
Radzik’s glowing praise of her students doesn’t stop there. She describes how students at the STEM camp are already thinking about what they want to do in their future, where they want to go to college, and how to acquire the financial aid they need to get there – impressive, considering the twelve- to fourteen-year-old age group. Radzik finds teaching at the Summer Institute exceptionally rewarding; she enjoys watching the kids discover new things and participate in activities they may not have experienced before, like today’s dissection.
In addition to the sheep brain dissections, students have been very busy with this week’s “Living Systems” theme. Other activities this week include putting on swim caps and mapping out brain regions on one another’s caps, as well as making seed balls which they can take anywhere and investigate their growth potential. With so many interactive learning opportunities, these students are taking “brainy” to a whole new level.