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Natalia Cedeno, a first grade student at John Barry School, launches a soda straw rocket during the Meriden YMCA's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fair in the school's gym Wednesday afternoon, March 26, 2014. The students were able to try different hands on projects and experiments to introduce them to more STEM topics. | Christopher Zajac / Record-Journal
Luis Arroyo, a 5th grade student at John Barry School, watches balls roll through the loop of the track he is experimenting with during the Meriden YMCA's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fair in the school's gym in Merirden, Wednesday afternoon, March 26, 2014. | Christopher Zajac / Record-Journal

Event spurs excitement over learning new things

MERIDEN — As an expansion of its extended-day programming that was aimed at getting families involved in their children’s learning, John Barry School hosted a science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM Exploration night Wednesday.

About 350 people turned out for the event, which featured hands-on activities based on STEM learning, and facilitated by the Meriden YMCA.

Elsie Torres-Brown, John Barry principal, said the idea for the evening came about at the suggestion of administrators at the YMCA.

Torres-Brown said she liked the idea not only because it tied in with similar hands-on learning students were doing as part of their extended-day enrichment activities, but also because it brought members of the community together.

“Just as important as the learning is getting kids excited to come back to school at night, with their families,” Torres-Brown said.

In an extended-day program, students attend school for eight hours instead of six and a half. During that extra time, students will participate in enrichment activities, like conducting mini-experiments at John Barry — lessons that normally wouldn’t fit into a normal school day. Meriden has received national recognition for its program at both John Barry and Casimir Pulaski elementary schools, and there are plans to expand the program to Israel Putnam and Roger Sherman schools as well.

Wednesday night included a host of activities that are normally part of the YMCA’s STEM curriculum, Executive Director John Benigni said.

What made it unique, Benigni said, echoing Torres-Brown, was the participation by families.

Families such as Mariel Martinez and her children, Alannie Flores, 6, and Angel Ayala, 8. The three were enjoying some of the pizza available at the event before heading into the gymnasium to participate.

“I’m excited for the rocket launcher,” Ayala said, and his sister nodded her agreement.

Indeed, making construction paper rockets to launch off a PVC pipe of compressed air was by far the most popular station in the gym.

“You’re learning about the scientific process,” said Greg Colonese, a STEM coordinator for the YMCA, “If it doesn’t work, you have to go back and figure out what went wrong, fix it, and try again. Science is all about trying again.”

Some students though, like Edwin Diaz, 10, figured out a successful design fairly quickly.

Diaz said he added tape to the top of his sister’s less-successful rocket, and soon it was sailing across the room.

Other activities Wednesday included paper airplane races, making race tracks for marbles, and making spinning tops.

“I’m just excited to come learn new things,” said Adriana Farfan, 6, who was busy making a spinning top. When her top kept wobbling, she added, “Well, practice makes perfect.” (203) 317-2279 Twitter: @MollCal

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