Willingboro students focus on science, technology, math, engineering

WILLINGBORO — The importance of science, technology, math and
engineering is being stressed in an after-school program.

On Thursday, about 125 students in the 21st Century program
took part in an interactive seminar aimed at “getting them in
gear” when it comes to those fields of study.

The program runs for 11 months of the school year and is
attended by about 225 students in sixth through eighth grades.
Established in the district in 2005, it is funded by a federal
grant and is intended to develop students’ intellect,
strengthen their resolve for community service, develop their
character, and help them discover their history and culture.

Students are also tutored and mentored by high-schoolers,
participate in physical education activities, and take field
trips, including college visits to get them focused on their
future.

STEM (science, technology, education and mathematics) has been
a focus of the district for three years, program director Brent
Nesmith said.

“We’re trying to encourage students to take math and science
more seriously,” Nesmith said. “I want them to learn that hard
work pays off and not to be discouraged by failure. Just try
harder.”

At the seminar, representatives from local colleges and
companies discussed opportunities in the fields.

“Never let people tell you in your heart you can’t do
something,” author Garland Thompson told the students.

Thompson, who wrote a book called “Unheralded But Unbowed:
Black Scientists and Engineers Who Changed the World,” said it
is important for district students, many of whom are
minorities, to realize that they can succeed in science and
technology.

Navarrow Wright, CEO of Interactive One, a digital media
company serving black Americans, also told the students to
dream big.

Wright is also co-founder with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons of
Globalgrind.com, and has been featured in numerous media
reports as an up-and-comer in technology and social media.

“I hope somebody in this room had a light-bulb moment tonight
and that they share that light-bulb moment with someone else,”
Wright said. “I hope you realize how much power and opportunity
you have.”

Gabriella Grenald, 10, a student at the Hawthorne Elementary
School, seemed captivated by a photography display. She
listened intently to directions on how to use the equipment,
touching up photos of herself and family members on the
computer.

“It’s good to get the experience so you don’t wonder how they
do it,” said Justin Logan, 13, an eighth-grader at the Memorial
Middle School who is excited about taking technology courses in
high school.

Iris Spence, 13, also an eighth-grader, said by talking to
professionals, she learned “they’re having fun doing their
job.”

“It helps me think about the future,” she said.

Briana Thomas, a high school senior and a program mentor, said
it’s important for younger students to focus on technology.

“It always seems to be the field that is modernizing,” Thomas
said.

Markita Vertilus and Rachida Toure, both sixth-graders at
Memorial, were enjoying themselves as they walked from display
to display. Both said they are especially interested in Web
design.

“They teach us new things (in the 21st Century program),”
Markita said. “It makes me a better reader and better at
science.”

Rachida said she recently created her own website, which is
focused on first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to fight
childhood obesity.

Jim Stanmore, an instructor with the 21st Century program, said
the students have been participating in all types of
interactive activities, including robotics, rocket and aviation
design, and how to handle an oil spill.

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