Douglas County School District students share STEAM projects |

Douglas County School District students share STEAM projects

by Rachel Spacek

From research projects on genetically modified organisms to dramatic Improv performances, Douglas County School District students put their best work on display at the district-wide STEAM Exploration Night on Tuesday.

More than 600 people attended the event, Superintendent Teri White said. Attendees included family and community members, 65 teachers and their classes from kindergarten through 12th grade.

White said the best part of the night for her was seeing the elementary school students watch the high school students in the chemistry lab as they demonstrated different principles. She said she saw the younger students get excited about science and watched in awe.

Toria Franzi, a junior at Douglas High School, was one of many students who stood in front of their project displays, waiting to share her discoveries with parents and other students.

Franzi presented a project on genetically modified organisms, where she discovered the pros and cons of genetically modifying organisms and the different methods of modification. Franzi first got excited about the topic during her freshman year at Douglas High in Robin Futch's agriculture class. She said she always thought genetically modifying organisms was unethical, but wanted to inform people of the details.

"I always figured it was bad, so I wanted to research and let people know the pros and cons of it and the methods and science behind it," Franzi said.

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Futch, agriculture and science teacher at Douglas High, had close to 40 students participate. She made the event a mandatory activity for all of her students, who range from first-year to fourth-year students.

For her first-year students, Futch taught them how STEM is a part of agriculture and asked them to come up with a question on something they want to know more about after learning about STEM's role in the agriculture field. Futch's third- and fourth-year students dissected parts of the agriculture program and showed how STEM was a part of agriculture with their projects.

"My goal was for us to teach the public," Futch said. "We wanted to teach people that agriculture is not just about farming and agriculture anymore. Some feedback I got from people was, 'whoa, I didn't know that,' and that was my goal."

Futch said she got compliments from parents and attendees on how well her students spoke and presented themselves. From her students, Futch heard comments about how they enjoyed being responsible for their own learning and appreciated the fact that they were able to choose a project from a subject they were interested in. Futch conducted a survey with her students and found they liked teaching the public about what agriculture actually is and enjoyed doing hands-on projects with attendees.

One of the performers who represented the arts portion of STEAM was Perla Molina, a student at Douglas High School and member of the Speech and Debate team. She discussed the importance of music as a method of healing and how music allows people to reminisce on the time they first heard specific songs and good memories associated with those songs. To conclude her performance, Molina said she and doctors recommend listening to music everyday.

Another performance was put on by the Drama Improv Group at Douglas High, where they asked for audience questions and each member took their turn at the microphone to show off their improvisation skills in their response to the audience question. The performance got laughs from the audience as they ate dinner provided by Sanchez Ranch Meat Company.

White said the idea for the STEAM night came from the desire to include the community into the science, technology, engineering, math and art going on in the school district. White also said she hopes this will be the first annual STEAM night and that it will grow in the coming years.

The event is part of the Food for Thought program, created by two teachers, Claudia Bertolone-Smith and Marlene Moyer last spring. Food For Thought is the concept that children serve a sit-down dinner to their families at the schools and after dinner, the schools provide day-care to the children while their parents go out to classrooms to learn what teachers are teaching their children. STEAM Night is a community event around that idea.

Bertolone-Smith said she was impressed with the teachers who volunteered and how well the students presented their work. She wanted to thank Sanchez Ranch for catering the event at the last minute and Suzy Stockdale of the Smallwood Foundation for funding the Food for Thought program.