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Stewart’s STEM GEMS

The 20 fifth-grade girls who are part of Stewart Elementary School’s GEMS club think they’re just having fun with science and math after school. They are really preparing for their futures.

The Girls Excelling in Math and Science, or GEMS, club strives to break down the stereotype that boys are better at math and sciences by offering girls fun ways to become engaged in the subject matter – and hopefully spark an interest in STEM-related careers for girls.

Science specialist Robin Bennis and math specialist Julie Hazlett sponsor the club.
They were part of a team of educators from Stewart who attended the Children’s Engineering Convention in Richmond, VA this past spring. It was here that they learned about GEMS, and decided that such a club would benefit the girls at Stewart, with the school’s focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). “The club is a great confidence builder for the girls,” Mrs. Bennis said. “Girls sometimes feel threatened by math and science, because there is a stereotype that boys are better at those subjects.”

“Girls sometimes need encouragement in math and science,” Mrs. Hazlett said. “GEMS gives the girls a chance to be successful in math and science in a fun and supportive environment with other girls.”

The club meets once a month after school, with a different seasonal theme for each meeting. The teachers try to incorporate all parts of STEM into each lesson. The December meeting focused on fingerprints. The girls examined their own fingerprints to determine what type of prints they had, such as plain arch, radial loop, or plain whorl. They then made a reindeer ornament craft using their thumbprints.

The girls at Stewart have shown a great interest in the club, and in the future, it may be opened up to fourth-grade girls, as well. “Even girls who didn’t sign up for the club initially started asking about joining, and fourth grade students are looking forward to the opportunity to join GEMS next year,” Mrs. Hazlett said.
Principal Greg Egnor is pleased with the enthusiasm for the club.

“There’s a national push to get girls and minorities involved in STEM fields, and that push begins with education,” Mr. Egnor said. “It’s especially important to get girls interested in science and math at this age level, because we, as educators, see girls tending to shy away from science in favor of language arts in middle school.”
He says that girls offer something unique to the male-dominated STEM-field careers: good communication skills and a female perspective. “GEMS is preparing our female students for life,” Mr. Egnor said.

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