Decked in a white lab coat, Neuro Girl lifts two bottles joined at the mouth like an hourglass and begins to swirl the red liquid inside. A tornado forms and the liquid drains from the top compartment to the lower one.
About 50 children “ooh” and “ahh” as Neuro Girl, or Shylo Vallant, demonstrates the Tornado Tube that explains the laws of gravity and inertia in a room at the homeless shelter where the children live.
Though it’s spring break for many of these school-aged children, they are getting extra doses of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) education through a joint county and community endeavor called Science-piration Week at the Family Shelter in East Multnomah County.
The Family Shelter serves residents who are experiencing homelessness. Half of the shelter’s population are young people and nearly all attend nearby Glenfair Elementary School in the Reynolds School District. Nearly one-tenth of Reynolds students are homeless making it the school district with the highest percentage of homeless students in Multnomah County, according to the Oregon Department of Education.
Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann and her staff worked with community partners -- Human Solutions and the Reynolds School District -- to secure the STEAM grant that makes hands-on learning accessible to children living in the Human Solutions Family Shelter during their week off. The effort was made possible by the East Metro STEAM Partnership, a state STEM hub that coordinates community efforts to provide effective STEM education.
“We know that when kids have things to do and are engaged they can flourish,” Commissioner Stegmann said. “That’s why it was such an honor to be part of Science-piration Week. Early exposure to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) can make a huge difference in kids’ lives and encourage them to explore career fields they may have never thought of.”
More than 40 county employees stepped up to volunteer on their own time for the weeklong science fair. Employees sang songs, led activities and worked in small groups with children exploring the event’s activities.
Science-piration Week also features lessons for the shelter’s children on 3D holograms, magnetism and a chance to make periscopes and build their own tool using magnets. The STEAM grant will also pay for additional learning opportunities at Glenfair Elementary School during the school year.
Krystal Meisel, director of the East Metro STEAM Partnership housed at Mt. Hood Community College, said this is the first year of the state grants that allow local communities to increase equitable access to STEAM learning.
“My goal is to raise awareness about pockets of innovation (in East Multnomah County),” Meisel says about STEAM education. “All the money goes to Hillsboro or Beaverton. How do we make this happen east of 82nd (Avenue)?”
Around the corner from the room where families sleep and eat, the children move through two stations learning about magnets, static electricity and kinetic energy and sound waves. At another station children make their own colorful slime.
One fourth-grade boy stirs a wooden stick into a clear plastic cup watching as the blue mixture becomes gooier. He smiles as he uses the stick to dig out the stretchy slime to get a closer look at his creation.
“Cool!” he shouts, showing off what he’s made to other children next to him. Within seconds, he’s already asked to make his second batch of slime.