Middle schoolers explore STEM at SHS

STEM Department Chair Justin Mirante demonstrates an engineering display during a STEM tour for local middle school students.

STEM Department Chair Justin Mirante demonstrates an engineering display during a STEM tour for local middle school students.


The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), labs at Southington High School (SHS) aren’t your typical “shop” classes.

Using 3D printers and CAD computer programs, students learn to design everything from wind turbines, to model homes, to go-karts. More than 25 course options give students the opportunity to learn STEM fundamentals, discover design techniques, and create functional, finished products.

Last week, 90 students from Kennedy and DePaolo middle schools had the opportunity to tour and explore the labs and courses. Led by STEM Department Chair Justin Mirante and his Technology Advisory Co-Chair Nancy Chiero, interested students were given hour-long tours of the facilities.

“Our mission is to get kids involved in these careers,” said Chiero, who said the department made it a goal to expose middle school students to STEM options before their registration for freshman-year courses.

The tours focused on opportunities in manufacturing, construction, transportation, and communication, and gave students a chance to learn about different class offerings for different grade levels, and to see what types of projects and assignments they would do in each.

Students, teachers, and guidance counselors viewed designs by screen-printing students, learned about model-size 3D prints, and saw the vehicles available for hands-on learning in the automotive labs.

“Careers in STEM are a great opportunity for you,” Mirante told the eighth-grade students, who will soon be participating in a course fair for their high school registration.

“Not every classroom you see today will be of interest you,” he said, “but our department believes that at least one of these rooms will spark an interest for you.”

The groups started their tours with the Project Lead the Way classrooms, where technology education teacher Kari Peschel-Luise shared the project’s six-year success in the pre-engineering technology exam.

Peschel-Luise said Project Lead the Way “is wonderful in terms of what we are as an all-comprehensive school.”

While going over the extensive curriculum, Mirante said the plethora of STEM classes focus equally on “the thinking, the planning, and bringing that project to life.”

He discussed opportunities for introductory courses where students can better choose their areas of interest, and explained the more advanced hands-on courses.

Mirante took students outside to view completed Adirondack chairs, trailer frames, and full-size sheds designed and built by students.

“This is our classroom. We get to build,” said Mirante. “Anything you can imagine you can make out of wood, you can come in here to design and make it.”

Students taken on the tours were asked to sign up through their middle school guidance department, and the tours were geared toward students who expressed an interest in STEM academics.

“These kids are more apt to take these classes once they’ve seen what’s going on,” said Steve Nyerick , a counselor at DePaolo, “They have an interest and now that they’ve seen it, they might influence their friends.”

Nyerick said that, although this was their first tour of the STEM labs, he already knows it will be an annual collaboration.

After the tour, eighth-grade student Amy Chudy said, “ I have an idea of what I want to apply to.”

Chudy said that with registration just around the corner she knew she wanted to explore Project Lead the Way, but that “construction really became an interest today.”

Nyerick said he hopes all the students will explore already established interests and new options.

For their freshman year, students have only one free credit for a STEM elective, with 26 STEM courses at SHS to choose from.

“We have more classes than you could ever possibly take,” said Mirante. “That’s why it’s important to explore.”

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Hartz, email her at THartz@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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