Everyday after classes are dismissed at Desert Vista High School, engineering and robotics students stick around campus to test, build and design their robots.

This extra time to assemble and fine-tune their projects may seem like a run-of-the-mill scene for a school, but students at Desert Vista and around the Ahwatukee Foothills area are learning real-world experience through Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics education, known as STEM, outside of traditional classes.

“All of this is just a continuation of what students are doing in class,” said engineering teacher Dan Zavaleta as he looked around his classroom of students after school last Friday.

In a recent study by the Afterschool Alliance titled, “Defining Youth Outcomes for STEM Learning in Afterschool,” it found that after-school leaders and providers believe that these programs are best positioned to expand students’ active learning in STEM education.

Zavaleta has been teaching engineering for 30 years, and also heads up the 5-year-old Technology and Engineering Academy at Desert Vista.

Though the implementation of STEM concepts is nothing new to school districts or curriculum, it has sprouted as sort of a buzzword for educators in recent years, pushing for schools to offer more exclusive programs and options in not only regular classrooms, but in after-school settings.

In addition to the academy, Zavaleta and colleague Ron Kennedy started a mobile app development section in their engineering course offered to sophomores, juniors and seniors. Unique to the district, with only one other section like this taught in the country, 12 students are currently producing Apple-based apps for teacher evaluations, among others.

“This gives the students real-world experience, and the program is to get these kids career ready,” Zavaleta said.

While a good portion of work on the mobile apps is produced in class, Zavaleta said his students are also learning how to build them on their own as homework.

In the Kyrene School District, STEM-based education after school helps students learn in new ways.

“STEM is one of those concepts that’s broad enough to capture a lot of different kid’s interests and let them explore them on their own,” said Josh Glider, the district’s assistant director of community education.

With the district-wide after-school program Kid’s Club, as well as clubs like LEGO League and other science-related activities, Glider said the district has always implemented STEM concepts, but in recent years stepped up its approach.

“Really, in the last three to four years is when we’ve been actively calling it out,” Glider said.

Since then, the district has reformatted its Primary Math and Science Institute for early learners, integrated the use of iPads at Kyrene del Milenio Elementary, and revamped the STEM University Program.

Horizon Community Learning Center is also aiming to expand Club Horizon, its after-school program that meshes some STEM-based activities like science clubs and computer lab time, to older students.

“It’s more relaxed, and they are learning without realizing it,” said Club Horizon director Patricia McIntyre of the after-school setting. “It’s helpful in that way.”

Back in Zavaleta’s classroom at Desert Vista, a student came up to him and asked about welding a piece of metal to his robot to support a moveable piece. Zavaleta agreed after asking the student more about his idea.

“Most of the kids are doing work on their own, once you get them motivated and excited, they’re good to go.”

Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or dmartinez@ahwatukee.com. Follow on Twitter: @_dianamartinez.

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