Ready, set, launch

Second-grader Cody Newton, left, third-grader Damion Tomaszich, middle, and third-grader Skyler Colson design a rocket and rocket launching system out of Legos.

Big Piney Elementary pioneers after-school STEAM program

Future scientists, engineers

and astronauts gather on the second floor of Big

Piney Elementary School on a cold January

evening to design spacecraft, map constellations

and explore the frontiers of outer space. They

are all part of an after-school group called the


Fifth-grader Aurora Rees puts the finishing

touches on her rocket. She explains how the

launch pad will send the rocket high into space

to travel to “a new planet no one has discovered.”

Rees points out dark-green windows that

she added to shield the astronaut’s eyes from the

harsh sun above the earth’s atmosphere.

Fourth-graders Joce Wilson and Jayden Castillo

collaborate on the design of their rocket

ship. Castillo explains where the sleeping quarters

and a “food place” are for the astronauts.

Wilson demonstrates how the launch pad balances

the rocket before shooting it into space.

She also mentions an autopilot button designed

to give the astronauts some much needed

rest during the long journey to faraway planets.

Castillo adds that the rocket has a self-destruct

button just in case “aliens try to take over” the


“We already went to the moon,” he said.

“Now we want to go to Neptune or Saturn or


Fifth-grader Willow Lucero maps out a

distant, undiscovered constellation. She places

stars in an intricate pattern on darkened construction

paper. Then she uses parchment paper

to trace the design of the constellation. A heartshape


The constellation doesn’t have a name yet

and Lucero still has to determine the details of

its origin. But the shape is meant to “show the

world love and kindness.”

The students are participating in a new

STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art

and math) program launched at the elementary

school in November. The program is funded

through the federal 21st Century Community

Learning Centers grant. The grant is administered

by Karen Bierhaus, 21st CCLC program

consultant at the Wyoming Department of Education.

District Superintendent Steve Loyd learned

about the grant while working at another district,

said Amy Bell, Big Piney and LaBarge Elementary

principal. Loyd applied for the grant

last spring, and the district succeeded in getting

the federal money to fund an after-school

STEAM program for the next five years, Bell


After five years, if the district wants to continue

the program, they will have to find their

own funding, she said. In addition to learning

programs, the students are provided with snacks

donated by the Bank of Pinedale.

Big Piney Elementary grant and site coordinator

Keyth Ann Palmer explained that the after-

school program focuses on four core areas of

learning: cyber science; engineering and design;

energy, forces and matter and human variation.

The program is offered from 3:20 p.m. to

6:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, Palmer

said. When students first arrive, they work on

homework and get a snack.

If the weather is warm, they go outside for

a few minutes before receiving a lesson in one

of the core areas from the program’s teachers,

Debbie Moline, Matt Guenthner and Bobbi

Guenthner. Two students from Big Piney High

School, senior Kendra Jones and sophomore

Jazmin Castillo, were hired as aides to help out.

After the lesson, the students get down and

dirty with hands-on learning. Palmer talked

about the different projects currently underway

at workstations around the room.

The STEAM-busters are starting construction

on rovers that will be sent to explore Mars.

This week, they will design the body of the

rover before engineering different parts that will

aid in sending data back to earth.

Students are also mapping out constellations

and will write a story about how their constellation

ended up in the night sky. Several STEAMbusters

are finishing a cyber project where they

take an object through a complex Lego maze

with a set of coding instructions.

Then there are the rocket ships and launch

pads engineered with Legos to take astronauts

where no human has gone before.

The school district collaborates with the Big

Piney Recreation Department to provide additional

programming after 5:15 for students.

Rec Center employees Misty Reed and Lainie

Troughton offer activities like a game where

students get to play a real-world version of

“Battleship” on mats.

Bell said that the STEAM program is “tied

to student improvement goals” in the district.

The school obtains data from district and statewide

assessments at the beginning and end of

the program to determine areas of strength and


Palmer added that the program “increases

student excitement” by inviting special visitors

like dog mushers to talk about the upcoming

dog-sled race and employees from the Forest

Service to teach students about tree rings.

“The program has really improved student

behavior and engagement,” said Bell. “We offer

enrichment in a safe, after-school environment

that is nice for working parents.”


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