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Next summer, the Elementary Institute of Science will oversee the Full STE[+a]M Ahead program. EIS works to nurture the intellectual curiosity of San Diego’s young people by providing hands-on learning experiences to further their understanding of science, technology, engineering and math. Help keep the program around!

Most high school students would be grossed out to get their hands in the dirt and learn about how worms decompose food scraps. But 17-year-old Felipe Morfin isn’t like most kids his age. The Gompers Preparatory Academy senior just completed a full-time summer program started by the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation that introduces students from Southeastern San Diego to hands-on science curriculum that pairs food justice, urban agriculture, photography and leadership

Felipe said learning about worms, urban gardening and agriculture was his favorite part of the summer program.

“I just found it fascinating how worms can do so many things,” Morfin said.

Learning about agriculture opened his eyes to a career track he had been curious about.

“It made me realize there’s people that do this for a living and it doesn’t have to be a 9-to-5 job,” Morfin said. “There’s other work fields than inside a building that are required for our society to function.”

The Jacobs Center’s Full STE[+a]M Ahead summer program uses science, technology, engineering and math curriculum to get students to come up with innovative ways for leading their communities by improving the health of their neighborhoods. The program has a creative twist, however, with an arts emphasis that helps engage artistic students with science and math learning.

Making Science Approachable

This summer marks the second year for the Full STE[+a]M Ahead program at the Elementary Institute of Science. Pairing science lessons with leadership and team-building skills, students benefit from concentrated learning through a 1-to-8 student-to-teacher ratio that exposes kids to the kind of hands-on instruction they don’t always get during the school year. The program doesn’t just expose students to STEAM curriculum; it’s outcome-driven and project-based, with students working on final projects that envision green buildings that could be integrated in their community. Students committed three weeks of their summer to the program.

Students learn about what pollution such as trash, oil spills, or global warming can do to the natural ecology at Groundwork San Diego-Chollas Creek’s Earth Lab.

Gompers Preparatory Academy senior Isabel Garcia said she wouldn’t have gotten as much out of the Full STE[+a]M Ahead program if there wasn’t a creative learning component to pair with math and science.

“Art is my life,” Garcia said. “I really love art and the fact this program brings it to the tech side is literally a plus because I don’t think I would have been as engaged as I was without it. That’s the kind of learning I need.”

Hands-on Learning is Eye-Opening for Students

The program instructors created innovative science lessons to get students to think about what’s really in the food they eat. Students were asked to bring their favorite junk food snack to class one day so they could talk about all the unknown ingredients. EIS instructor Josh Osias said the exercise was eye-opening.

“Here’s what you guys have been eating, do you know what’s in the food you eat?” Osias said. “Most of them were pretty shocked to see the unrecognizable ingredients, especially how many of them caused cancer.”

Pairing a science-based summer program with leadership training gets kids to think about who they are and how they can take a leadership role in their community, even as teenagers. Instructor Grace Bagunu said using the Social Change Model of Leadership development resonated with the students and empowered them.

“I saw a raised level of awareness of who they are and what they’re capable of doing,” Bagunu said. “That was really cool to see them go from ‘it’s not my responsibility’ to ‘I can make a difference.’”

For Morfin, the experience with Full STE[+a]M Ahead solidified his passion for studying environmental science in college.

“The way they present it (is) that we as teenagers can make a difference in the environmental aspect, it’s not just an adult world,” he said. “Coming here really put the stepping stone to my passion; this is definitely what I want to do.”

Students are using #fullsteam to show off their projects. Check it out:


Learn more about Jacobs Center’s sponsor, SDG&E.


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