KAST emphasizes STEM education for younger students

Esther Kim and Ellen Kan

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“I know what we can do!”

Giggles and excited voices filled the classroom as students from Bren Mar Park Elementary School competed for the egg drop challenge, crafting their own protective devices using cardboard, cotton balls and wooden sticks.

Beside the younger students, the members of Kids Are Scientists Too (KAST), a student-run organization that teaches science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) topics to local elementary schools, carefully watched the students’ process and aided their attempts to solve the challenge.

“As a high school teacher, I learn to better communicate with younger students to teach concepts that seem hard in an easier way,” sophomore Laura Chu, one of the lead facilitators of Jefferson’s KAST branch, said. “The greatest benefit of seeing STEM education increase through student-run programs is that it inspires people to find their own ways to spread their own passion for STEM to the community.”

With many of its branches located around the Northern Virginia area, KAST has become one of the largest STEM education organizations run by high school students. Jefferson, which also leads its own KAST program, boasts a systematic organization of members and extensive connections with five elementary schools, including Annandale Terrace, Braddock, Bren Mar Park, Columbia and Mason Crest Elementary Schools.

Founded in 2010, KAST follows its mission of igniting interest in STEM subjects to elementary school students by organizing interactive sessions that incorporate theoretical concepts with hands-on experiments. Currently, the Virginia branch of KAST is led by junior Matthew Sun, and high schools including Chantilly, Fairfax and Oakton have been participating in the program.

“KAST’s expansion is something I’m really proud of,” Sun said. “We have fantastic branch leaders in KAST Virginia, and a lot of motivated students have actually heard about us and reached out, asking how they can start a new branch.”

The Jefferson branch of KAST is led by seniors Steven Androphy and Ellen Kan. Sessions are held on Fridays, and three lead facilitators are assigned to each participating elementary school. The facilitators are selected every year through online applications and interviews.

While the 15 lead facilitators are responsible for planning lessons and organizing transportation, KAST also encourages Jefferson students to serve as volunteers; each session can typically accommodate five volunteers in addition to the three lead facilitators. Each session usually takes an hour, with the first half consisting of lessons on scientific concepts and the latter half consisting of experimentation.

“Science classrooms today place so much emphasis on textbook facts rather than practical use of the information,” Androphy said. “For many of the students, KAST is their only exposure to the applications of science in real life. I benefit from knowing that the kids take advantage of KAST, learn from KAST and genuinely enjoy KAST.”

Aside from regular sessions, KAST has been extending its promotion of STEM education through summer camps, which was held for five days at Chantilly High School last July.

With an increased attention to STEM education and career, KAST aims to provide the first steps for young students to pursue deeper and inquisitive learning in science.

“Sustainable STEM projects that are student-run truly create an incredible social impact,” Sun said. “A student I taught last year through KAST ran up to me at our first session this year and gave me a big hug, and it really helped me to realize that not only do we provide these kids with inspiration to do science, but also make their days better just by being kind, approachable and friendly older individuals.”

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