The issue: When it comes to STEAM, American youth are falling behind the rest of the world.

Local impact: Community investment through local programs reinforces what is being done in schools.

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a three-part series focusing on STEAM programming in the community focusing on how schools and other organizations are incorporating the concepts into what they offer to students.

“When it comes to STEAM our youth are falling behind the rest of the world.”

Stacy Johnson, Redwood County 4-H program coordinator, offered that statement as a way to explain the increased emphasis the national youth program has been making in the areas of science, technology, art, engineering and math.

Whether it is focusing its after-school programs on building a pollinator feeder to help students understand the science of insects or offering a painting class, the focus of 4-H is on reinforcing the importance of these areas in the development of students as part of their future.

“We want to help and encourage youth to think creatively,” said Johnson.

The foundation of the 4-H program lends itself well to the concepts of STEAM, as participants select project areas each year, learn the ins an outs of that area and then apply what they learned through hands-on projects of their own.

The concepts of STEAM are being emphasized in education more and more, said Johnson, and through programs like 4-H what is being taught in school is built upon through additional efforts at the community level.

At times the concepts of STEAM are being introduced to youth before they even start school. That is what has been happening at the Redwood Falls Public Library during its weekly story time program for preschool-aged children.

While the story time program has emphasized learning and creativity, a recent grant from the Minnesota Department of Education of up to $10,000 has provided added opportunities for the library to enhance that creativity for participants.

Teri Smith, library director, Jill Deinken, children’s librarian, and Kara Kuehn, who was brought on as a temporary staff member focused on best utilizing the grant from the state department of education, talked about ways the library has implemented STEAM concepts through the books they are introducing as well as the projects the youth are doing while at the library.

“We are offering fun activities for the kids who are learning without knowing that they are learning,” said Smith, adding it is very exciting to see the preschoolers as they dig in and show off their creativity.

As part of its program, Deinken said the library has been introducing concepts of nature to the youth, adding the projects they are doing are easy and can be replicated and built upon at home.

The story time participants come once each week at 10:30 a.m. each Tuesday, and Kuehn said each week is intended to focus on a different area of STEAM.

During a recent story time event, students listened to a story about an artist who utilized engineering skills to create his works of art, and then were able to make their own artwork.

“A lot of what we are doing is encouraging inquisitive play,” said Deinken, adding creativity naturally stems from that in kids.

Another important element of the STEAM emphasis at the library and through the 4-H program is building on the ideas of collaboration and teamwork, as students learn to interact with others to develop concepts, share ideas and come up with solutions together.

Problem solving skills are another natural outcome of the efforts being made through these community programs, said Johnson.

The library and the 4-H program have worked collaboratively on projects, and Johnson said there are plans to continue to build on that in the future.

Smith said the library is also encouraging learning at home through the purchase of several backpacks that can be checked out and taken home. Each of the 31 backpacks being created will emphasize on an area of STEAM and will include information and ideas for families to enjoy.

Through 4-H there are 13 after-school programs being offered throughout Redwood County in a number of the communities from Morgan to Milroy.

These after-school programs are geared toward students in Kindergarten through Grade 8, said Johnson, adding the concepts are being taught and applied, with leadership skills also being incorporated.

Some of the older students work alongside the younger ones. Johnson said for years the belief was that it was only boys who had an interest in these areas, but what she is seeing is a marked increase in the number of girls who are also participating and in many occasions are outpacing the boys.

Johnson also emphasizes that making mistakes is OK as youth are learning.

“Things don’t always go right the first time,” said Johnson, adding when students move on from their mistakes learning is occurring.

Throughout its history, the United States became a global leader through the efforts of those focused on science, technology, engineering, art and math.

People like Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell were innovators who learned by trial and error and came up with ideas that changed the world.

Those who are working with today’s youth in the areas of STEAM are focused on bringing out the best in those future scientists, artists, mathematicians and engineers who are going to come up with the next best thing that will make life better for everyone.