Dr. STEAM and Sally Science Bring the Magic of STEAM to Afterschool

The educational themes of science, technology, engineering, arts and math, better known collectively as STEAM, allow children and youth to explore the world around them in new ways, while practicing valuable life skills including critical thinking, and collaboration. Out-of-school time (OST) programs offer a chance for participants to engage in these educational opportunities with a less formal and far more engaging approach.  

Frank Verney, the afterschool director for City of West Palm Beach, Gaines Park Community Center, is no stranger to creating engaging activities for the youth in his program. In fact, he has taken this one step further by not only creating engaging hands-on STEAM activities, but by creating a whole new persona to make these interactions truly memorable for the participants in his program.  

“I wanted to show the kids how much fun STEAM can be after a long day at school. I knew I had to create something to keep them engaged, so I created Dr. STEAM. I decorate the room as a science lab and dress like a scientist who is visiting the children from another state. I say funny things and have a theme song I would play for the kids as they enter the classroom. I pretend not to know the youth and introduce myself to them. The kids really enjoy my Dr. STEAM character and the other characters I have created.” -Frank Verney, Afterschool Director, City of West Palm Beach – Gaines Park Community Center

Children and youth are not the only fans of Verney’s above and beyond teaching style. For a recent Prime Time expanded learning opportunity session, Callie Sharkey, the, Stories and STEM program manager for Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County, joined the fun by creating her own special character for the lesson. One wig and lab coat later, Sally Science was born, and the two afterschool superstars formed an entertaining and educational duo for the fourth graders at City of West Palm Beach – Gaines Park Community Center. 

Sharkey used this opportunity to debut a new lesson about volcanoes, along with her new character. The mini volcanoes she used were found at the dollar store, highlighting how even practitioners on a budget can bring the magic of STEAM learning to their programs with a little creativity.

After an initial volcanic eruption, youth were able to add food coloring and change the amounts of vinegar and baking soda they used to direct their own results.

“For older students, it spawns a great discussion about how chemical reactions take place by trading electrons. This brings terminology they have heard in school (protons, electrons, atoms, molecules, etc.) back to mind and connects it to a tangible, real-world scenario. We even talked about why vinegar and baking soda are often used in cleaning products. The students were also given the option to take the mini volcanoes home along with a sealed bag of red baking soda to carry out the experiment again at home,” said Sharkey. 

She credits the great working relationship and communication she has with Frank as a major factor in the success of the session. 

“Frank follows up with me directly about staff and programs, so we are able to make adjustments and really help the children and youth shine in STEAM! If I ever want to try something new, I know I can trust Frank to communicate with his staff, so we are ready for anything!” recalled Sharkey. 

Verney has been attending Prime Time events and professional development trainings for more than ten years, and credits the confidence he brings to STEAM in large part to Prime Time’s six-part STEAM series that he attended. He enjoyed the series so much that he will be attending it again, this time as both himself and his beloved character. 

The STEAM series is a true confidence-builder for OST staff who want to explore these subjects with the children and youth they serve.

“All of the lessons and activities that were taught during the series helped me create this character. I had to find a way to engage the children with STEAM and show them how much fun it is. With the STEAM training, I learned new ways of doing STEAM and how to keep children engaged.” – Frank Verney, Afterschool Director, City of West Palm Beach – Gaines Park Community Center

“STEAM is an integral part of not only connecting students to the world around them, but it also lets them explore and experiment and nothing builds confidence more than making discoveries on their own!” – Callie Sharkey, Stories and Stem Manager, Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County.

If you would like to learn how to bring a world of new possibilities to your program and gain confidence found in each new discovery, contact Prime Time’s STEAM Professional Development Specialist Patricia Sasson.  

Our next cohort begins on Friday, February 4, 2022, and we would love to see you there.