A new Wallingford initiative is “all about bringing families together through STEM,” according to Greg Colonese, one of the teacher organizers. The Wallingford STEM Enrichment Academy will offer evening and weekend activities for students and their families to build interest in STEM and increase family involvement in children’s education.
The new program is the vision of Wallingford Education Association (WEA) Vice President Chris Stone, who has been running a Young Astronauts Club in the district for the past 15 years. He applied through the WEA for a CEA grant that will help allow him to take his existing program to another level.
Stone joined several community leaders in announcing the new initiative to a room full of Wallingford families last night.
“Funding from CEA really allows us to develop this program in ways we couldn’t have fathomed two years ago,” said Stone. “There’s been astronomical growth in interest from parents in the family science nights.”
The new STEM Academy will allow at least 100 Wallingford students to be involved with STEM enrichment activities over the next two years. Students will take part in design challenges and deepen problem solving and leadership skills through team-building challenges at a Wallingford low ropes course.
The WEA is collaborating with the Wallingford Youth and Social Services Department and the Spanish Community of Wallingford (SCOW) to implement the initiative. A long list of teachers and community members has already signed on, and many local organizations will also take part.
Wallingford Superintendent Salvatore F. Menzo credited Stone with making the new program possible for Wallingford families. “This program would not have been possible without Chris. He is amazingly dedicated to this initiative,” he said.
“We really appreciate CEA’s support,” Menzo continued. “It means a lot, and shows how dedicated teachers are to children in this district.”
CEA President Sheila Cohen thanked families for their commitment to the program. “As teachers, we can’t do it alone,” she said.
Cohen added that the CEA grant to the Wallingford STEM Academy “is part of CEA’s concerted effort to be right in the middle of education reform that is going on in Connecticut.”
State Senator Len Fasano said that the Wallingford Academy is a great example of a program that works due to parental involvement. “We need more community commitment like what you have here in Wallingford,” he said. “Teachers have so much to do in the classroom, we’ve go to do our part to help them.”
Colonese, a Hamden High School teacher and Wallingford resident who is helping lead the program, said that the family engagement is a really unique aspect of the program.
WEA President Louis Faiella agreed, saying, “Look around the room. You can really see the family connections this program inspires.”
Faiella said that SCOW has been instrumental in helping some Spanish-speaking families feel comfortable joining the program. “SCOW is a bridge for families,” said Faiella. “And once families are involved with the STEM Academy, they feel more connected with the entire education system.”
Stone said, “The collaboration with SCOW has us really bursting at the seams. We’re thrilled.”
Alyssa Ferrone, a school counseling student at Southern Connecticut State University, participated in the Young Astronauts Club when she was a Wallingford student. Now she’s returned as a facilitator.
Ferrone says the hands-on STEM activities really get the kids to think and engage with the subject matter in a way that workbooks can’t. At a recent Wallingford Family Science Night that drew over 100 people, Ferrone said, “Kids were so excited and surprised by the activities.”
Parent Benita Lopez said the Young Astronaut program Stone has led has been great for her children, Frida and Brian Hernandez, who have both taken part. “They’ve enjoyed it so much that they asked to come tonight to sign up for the new STEM Academy,” said Lopez.