Here at Hall Neighborhood House, we see STEM education as so much more than simple science, technology, engineering, and math lessons. Knowledge is important, but STEM can be so much bigger than hard skills.
Our STEM Coordinator, David Mestre, has built a program that uses STEM to get youth excited about learning and thinking about bold possibilities for their futures.
David has an Astronomy degree from Harvard and a Masters of Science, from the University of Pennsylvania. He also served as the Director of the Henry B. duPont III Planetarium (at the former Discovery Museum and Planetarium), making him the perfect person to lead our STEM program. His goal throughout his career has been to “inspire, engage, and educate various audiences on science, technology, engineering, and math.”
Hall and Beyond
“Our on-site program is just the beginning,” David explained. “I work with a team of people to bring STEM programs and STEM education not only to audiences that are here at Hall, but also beyond its doors.”
For example, the STEM team worked with the University of Bridgeport to implement underwater vehicle design in high school classrooms, supported by a grant from the U.S. Navy. “The students were able to build the submersible and learn about how we actually conduct underwater exploration with these remote vehicles,” shared David.
“We are also setting up a robotic farm at Harding High School, taking their gardening club into the 21st century,” he added. “And we work with the Talented and Gifted (TAG) program in Bridgeport to provide dedicated programming to students.
In middle and elementary schools, Hall provides STEM support to Lighthouse programs, supporting Bridgeport’s after school programming. During these programs, students learn about electrical engineering, robotics, coding, and more. Hall even hosted Code Ninjas for a two-week coding workshop this summer.
“The kids went bananas,” said David. “They didn’t want to leave the room.”
With the announcement of The Alan Wallack STEM Learning Center, created in partnership with the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, the sky’s the limit for our STEM programming—both at Hall and in Bridgeport schools.
David noted that, with the expansion, “our scope of work is actually going to exponentially increase. The STEM Center is being reimagined and reinvigorated with the support of many generous donors, all in the name of Alan Wallack.”
He emphasized that Hall’s model will be special: “We’re using a hub and spoke model. We will be a support system and provide the scaffolding to support teachers in implementing STEM in a sustainable way.”
Schools will provide the space and staffing, and Hall will ensure these educational products get to students.
How The Alan Wallack STEM Learning Center Comes to Life
Hall Neighborhood House works with generous donors to make these STEM centers happen—at no cost to students or schools. Each STEM center costs $40,000 to bring to life in a Bridgeport school, covering the cost of training, materials, and supplies.
This funding provides state-of-the-art technology, including …
- 3D printers
- Bee Bot programmable robots
- Circuit boards
- Makey Makey engineering kits
- Ozobots for coding
- Sphero BOLT and indi
These tools support learning and introduce students to the technology of the future in an age-appropriate way.
“The idea that a place like Hall, a space that is safe and empowering, offers these resources is pretty powerful,” David shared. “As kids gravitate to it and donors add their own legacies, the growth is exponential.
The STEM Dream Team
The new STEM learning center builds upon a program that started two years ago when Jennifer Buckley and David Mestre sought out funding to support STEM programming. When Hall received the funding, David knew exactly who he wanted to bring on board.
“I immediately thought of Lynn,” he said.
“We work well as a team,” Lynn added.
Lynn Olins, our STEM Educator, is a critical part of our team and passionate about showing youth how exciting these concepts can be. She brings an extensive background as an educator to the team, including experience teaching elementary school in Fairfield Public Schools and middle school science in Stratford and time as the Director of Education at what was formerly known as the Discovery Museum and Planetarium.
“STEM is the future,” she said. “We want our kids from Bridgeport to be part of that future.”
It’s a future that’s growing and changing at light speed, so our team works to ensure youth have access to the very best—and the people they need to support them as they learn.
“We’re mentors. We’re caring adults. We’re people that the community trusts with their young people, and our young people know that they can come to us for help with a problem,” said David.
“We’ve brought in people that had really strong backgrounds in STEM education. And then, on top of that, we work with outside partners to be able to provide cutting-edge educational programs,” said David. Partners like Code Ninjas, Milestone C, and Drone Cadets teach hard skills and show students what’s possible in science and tech.
David and Lynn aren’t just inspiring students, either. They’ve shown teachers the magic of STEM to enhance lessons, engage students, and help their classes succeed.
“To expand this program, we’re going to be able to supply professional development for these teachers,” said Lynn.
“One of the reasons we both do this is the excitement of an aha moment when a kid gets a concept or gets excited about understanding something. Being able to be a part of that is just a great feeling. And it’s special to have those moments with teachers, too.”
“Being able to equip them to incorporate it into their daily lesson planning is so important,” Lynn shared. As a teacher, she knows how overwhelming it can be to learn a new curriculum without a clear plan for implementing it. “We’re not going to just dump this information on them,” she said.
Teaching Concepts, Empowering Students
“When a kid comes up to you, especially a kindergartener or first grader, and says ‘I’m an engineer and I know that an engineer solves problems,’ that’s empowering,” David said. “We’re trying to get our youth into a STEM pipeline to build careers in STEM. And that starts way earlier than middle or high school. We’re planting those seeds in our youngest community members.”
Lynn and David are on a mission to show youth that STEM is all around them—even using some unconventional strategies. One of their most popular lessons was Deconstruction Day, where they gave students the opportunity to take apart common household electronics. When they were confronted with an Xbox, things got real.
“At first they were apoplectic at the idea,” said Lynn. “Then, it ended up being one of the most difficult objects to take apart.” The activity spurred a conversation about the way these objects are designed to become obsolete and what happens to them once they are thrown away.
There are countless moments like this in the STEM center—and there will be so many more with our new partnership with the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation for The Alan Wallack STEM Learning Center. David and Lynn have cracked the code on STEM education here at Hall, and we can’t wait to learn from their expertise, expand their proven programs, and keep sharing their amazing STEM stories.