Ronak Suchindra was 8 when he attended a 4-H program that sparked his passion for robotics.
Now 15 and a rising sophomore at Downingtown East High School in southeastern Pennsylvania, he hopes to spark other kids’ passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
“It’s a way for kids to find their passions” while learning programming, Suchindra said. “Being able to foster that passion for coding in kids at such a simple level will start getting them thinking, ‘How can I build on what I’ve learned and how can I develop my skills?’”
The event was part of Remake Learning Days Across America, a nonprofit after-school initiative spreading across the country that aims to inspire and nurture kids’ interest in science, math, arts, technology, and more, through hands-on or project-based activities. And the initiative emphasizes the importance of starting the process early, when students are in elementary school.
Programs like Remake Learning Days are especially important at a time when there is a vast talent gap in the STEM industry. Jobs in STEM fields are expected to grow twice as fast as those in non-STEM fields, and millions of STEM jobs are expected to go unfilled in the near future, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Research has also found that Black, Hispanic, and female workers are underrepresented in STEM professions.
Remake Learning Days Across America was launched in 2016 in the greater Pittsburgh region by the Remake Learning Network, an organization that wants to “transform teaching and learning to better serve today’s young people,” according to its website. Since 2016, the initiative has expanded to 13 states and the District of Columbia.
This school year, there were 1,270 events hosted by schools, libraries, museums, universities, child care centers, tech startups, and other organizations. Every event focuses on one or more of the following experiences: arts, makerspaces, outdoor learning, science, technology, youth voice, and professional development.
Getting students career ready
One of the goals of Remake Learning Days Across America is to build up kids’ knowledge and curiosity about a variety of careers in hopes that they will want to dive deeper into whatever interests them the most. While many of the events offer hands-on or project-based activities, some also introduce kids to professions they might not have been aware of before.
The goal of the events is for kids to find something that they’ll become passionate about, which can turn into a career pathway, said Dorie Taylor, one of the producers of the initiative.
The Pennsylvania Education Department has partnered with the Remake Learning Network to elevate the initiative and promote hands-on learning and career readiness in schools statewide, said Laura Fridirici, career readiness adviser for the department.
The department created the Career Ready PA backpack challenge. Students who attend Remake Learning events that teach “STEM employability skills” and career readiness will earn a Career Ready badge, Fridirici said. Schools that earn more than a hundred badges from their students receive a banner declaring their school career ready.
Pennsylvania students are required to have a portfolio that shows they have engaged in the state’s Career Education and Work Standards, which includes career awareness, preparation, acquisition, retention, and advancement, Fridirici said. Students are also required to learn “Career Ready Skills,” such as self-management, relationship-building, and problem-solving.
“It’s really the wraparound services and community supports, like Remake Learning Days, that connects students with real-world examples of what they’re learning in the classroom,” said acting state Education Secretary Eric Hagarty, in an interview with Education Week. It becomes the “spark” that starts a student’s interest in something, he added.
According to Brian White, superintendent of Butler Area School District and member of the Remake Learning Council, the problem is that schools often ask students to pick career pathways without first exploring what they like. “They go through a set of courses and then all of a sudden we ask: Which pathway do you want to go on?” he said, so exposing kids to different career pathways early on is “important” and “powerful.”
The initiative has also become a supplement to what schools are already doing to reengage students and to help them catch up on unfinished learning caused by pandemic-related disruptions. In an EdWeek Research Center survey conducted earlier this year, 68 percent of educators said that problems with student engagement are making it harder to help students reach the grade level where they need to be.
“Schools are doing so much,” said Yu-Ling Cheng, one of the producers of Remake Learning Days. “They did a Herculean effort throughout the pandemic. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we all have a role to play in a child’s education. So [Remake Learning Days] is to support the work that they’re doing and to provide more resources to families.”
About 20 percent of Pennsylvania school districts participated in the initiative this school year, according to Fridirici.
“One of the things that every school has struggled with, especially since COVID, is making sure that the kids are reengaged with each other, reengaged with their learning, reengaged with the school community,” said Carrie Morgan-Davis, the principal of McQuistion Elementary School in Butler, Pa. “Remake Learning Days gives us a vehicle for that.”
The initiative also tries to deliberately engage parents and help them understand what their children are learning, especially amid all the increased use of technology in education over the past two years.
The introduction of technology during the pandemic “expedited” changes in learning, and “all these interesting projects were coming out for kids, but as a network, we started to realize we’re missing a really important stakeholder, and that’s the parents and caregivers,” Cheng said.
“Sometimes, parents don’t know what resources are available to them,” she added. “As parents, we want to feel confident. We know that our kids turn to us for answers. And there’s nothing worse than feeling like you don’t know what’s going on.”
That’s why Remake Learning events are structured in a way that ensures families can participate, she said. Many events are after school time or on weekends, and if events are happening during school time, the schools make sure the events are open to parents and caregivers.
In 2020, the Global Family Research Project found that “family participation in Remake Learning Days increases the likelihood that children and youth will really enjoy the experience and indicate that they want more of them.”
Chatón Turner, a mother of three children ages 11, 8, and 4, attended a Remake Learning event hosted by nonprofit Venture Outdoors called Outdoor Survivor with her two sons. It was a STEM-based activity so kids learned about the science of friction and how that can start a fire, as well as other outdoor, science-related survival skills. Plus, the kids got to make s’mores.
“Venture Outdoors did a great job of including things that all children, but especially boys, would enjoy,” Turner said. “There was fire, there was food, and there was fun.”
Had it been in another environment where “it was less tactical and less interactive,” it wouldn’t have been as memorable for her sons, Turner said.
Turner and her children have been attending Remake Learning Days events for about four years. She said she likes that there are so many events on a variety of topics that “you can easily pick something that will resonate with your child.”
When choosing which events she’ll have her kids attend, she doesn’t just pick events she knows her children will be interested in. She also picks events where her children will learn something important, even if it’s not something they’re interested in.
“I think our job as parents is to expose our children to as many things as possible so that they can decide what they enjoy and they can make thoughtful choices about how they want to spend their time as adults,” Turner said.
Some schools have used their Remake Learning Days event as an open house opportunity for parents and caregivers to gain insight into what their children have been learning during the regular school day.
A 2019 Global Family Research Project memo found that through Remake Learning Days, families are getting more knowledgeable about STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) concepts and that “when families are engaged in [those topics], students are more likely to succeed academically, take more advanced courses, and pursue STEAM-related careers.”
“It also gives parents and guardians an opportunity to come into the school,” said Vanessa Boyd, the principal of Broad Street Elementary School in Butler, Pa. “It increases attendance because if parents start feeling like the school is part of them, they will have their children come more.”
I think our job as parents is to expose our children to as many things as possible so that they can decide what they enjoy and they can make thoughtful choices about how they want to spend their time as adults
Bringing the community together
Remake Learning Days help bring communities together, according to event hosts, parents, and school leaders who spoke with Education Week.
Hagarty agreed. “Hopefully, kids will go to an event and that will spark an interest in something and they’ll be able to go to a library or a community function in the summer and have another chance to do a similar activity or maybe dive deeper,” he said.
Event hosts pointed out that the initiative also brings awareness to smaller organizations and helps connect them with the surrounding community.
“The great thing about Remake Learning Days is that it can be difficult for a lot of these smaller organizations to connect with people in the community, and people in the community might not know much about them. Remake Learning Days does a nice job of centralizing all of that,” said Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games, an education and entertainment game development company that hosted an open house for students to learn about what it takes to develop video games. “They have a big megaphone, where they can let everybody know all this great stuff is going to be happening. It’s great because it lets the organizations be a little more aware of each other.”
But for some, there is still work to be done when it comes to community outreach and awareness.
“There are always opportunities to engage through more outreach through partnerships,” said Fridirici. “It then comes to how I (through my state career readiness advisor role) can better prepare the educators to include and engage more learners, more classrooms, with additional support.”
For Turner, mother of three, the only suggestion she has for Remake Learning Days is for organizers to “better amplify its message and programs more broadly.” She suggested that Remake Learning Days partner with more schools and get schools to amplify events through their newsletters to families.
“A lot of marginalized communities don’t even know everything that’s out there,” she pointed out, “so they’re not looking for it.”
Coverage of afterschool learning opportunities is supported in part by a grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, at www.mott.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.