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Midvale Journal

Copperview Elementary, community partners unite for family STEM nights, field trips, classroom learning

May 08, 2023 11:00AM ● By Julie Slama

Copperview Elementary students learned from their community partner Tracy Aviary about the largest breeding colony of American white pelicans that live on Gunnison Island in the Great Salt Lake at a recent family STEM night. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

It wasn’t one family STEM night that Copperview Elementary hosted this spring—there were three. 

Each of the STEM nights was tailored to students in certain grades, aligning the materials presented with the science core standards, said Jenna Landward, Copperview community school facilitator.

“We’ve been focusing on increasing student content knowledge and language acquisition through high-quality learning experiences linked to grade level core standards,” she said. “Each grade level is partnered with a community agency to provide experiential opportunities in and outside of the classroom.”

Many of those partner organizations presented material at the family STEM nights.

During the first- through third-grade STEM night, students could spin the wheel at the Red Butte Garden station with the help of the nonprofit’s school programs manager Sarah Sandoval. The spinner would land on a certain plant, then outreach coordinator Mary Hollyman helped students identify items made from that plant on table. Once they succeeded, students could choose a sticker, packet of seeds, temporary tattoo or a pass to the gardens.  

“Plants are all around us and they’re a big part of our everyday lives; they’ve inspired a lot of human inventions and products that we consume,” she said. “It’s nice for students to make those connections and start noticing features and structures of plants that we have in our everyday lives.”

At the Tracy Aviary station, schools and outside school time program coordinator Erin Johnson and community programs coordinator Kylee Ehmann showed a pelican feather, a pelican replica skull and their breeding caruncle—the bump on their beak.

“We’re wanting people in the Salt Lake City area to learn about birds migrating in the wonderful watershed we live in,” Ehmann said. “We’re teaching students that we have the largest breeding colony of American white pelicans here on Gunnison Island in the Great Salt Lake; it’s about 20% of the global population. They’re learning that the Great Salt Lake supports 10 million birds that migrate through every year, so I hope they realize the Great Salt Lake is such an important resource.”

She also gave them tips to help birds, such as turning off their lights at night, so the birds don’t get confused during migration and putting decals on windows and sliding glass doors so birds see them and not fly into them.

Tracy Aviary is one of the partners that not only participated in a STEM night, but also will conduct an in-class teaching experience and invite them to the Aviary. 

Other community partners include Discovery Gateway, Hogle Zoo, Red Butte Gardens, Clark Planetarium, Living Planet Aquarium and Natural History Museum of Utah.  

During the STEM nights, students answered questions in a passport based on the activities in classrooms and the gym. Once completed, each student could go to the PTA booth to receive a new book; the books were donated by Glacier Hills Elementary.

 PTA president Josie McClendon said many of the students were excited to learn about different animal environments as well to draw their dream habitat.

“It’s not only a good way the kids get a good, interactive way of learning the core curriculum material, they’re also getting to know their community and places in it,” she said. 

Second-grader Maddy Esau attended the family STEM night with her brother, kindergartner Dallin and mom, Nicole. She was having fun with her friends and liked spinning the wheels to win prizes.

“I like to learn about things and do little science experiments,” Maddy said. “At school, we made little mountains of sand that stuck together, and we tested it with rain, wind and light. We were testing which one destroyed the land faster and which was the slowest. The wind was slower, and the flood was fastest.”

Assistant Principal Aimee Wagner said tying the community partners with classroom learning, family STEM nights and field trips helps reach the school goal to increase students’ academic vocabulary. 

“It starts with their classroom instruction where teachers are taking one of our science standards and doing some very explicit instruction of the science standards and vocabulary,” she said. “Then, students go on a community partner field trip. We’ve also partnered with our Family Learning Center, so families have an opportunity to learn the same things that their students are learning and have that support and reinforcement of learning at home. Then anyone who attends a STEM night has a bonus where a parent and the student get a field trip to one of our community partners, so it all ties together.”

The field trips for a parent and child were paid out of Title I funds and directly ties into their curriculum standards, Landward said.

Wagner said they decided to focus on STEM to help Copperview’s 410 students grow more in the area as well as have hands-on engagement.

“We’re also able to increase students’ oral language and academic vocabulary at an early age, which will support them all the way through fifth grade. That vocabulary extends not only from science, but across all content areas,” she said. “Plus, we’re a very tight-knit community school and when we have events like this, families show up, participate, get to experience activities and learning together—and that’s awesome.” λ