‘Matchmaking’ Fair Connects Schools with STEM in District 24

The team at NYC Stem Network.

By Ariel Pacheco | [email protected]

To provide students in Pre-K-8 with more opportunities in STEM, Community School District 24 held a matchmaking STEM provider fair on Friday, June 9, where representatives from schools were able to connect with STEM providers to lay the groundwork for programs beginning in September of 2023.  

Although the fair was scheduled to be held at PS/IS 128 in Middle Village, it quickly shifted to taking place virtually due to poor air quality in the New York City area. Despite the last-minute shift, about 100 participants were still in attendance.

District 24 covers Middle Village, Maspeth, Ridgewood, Glendale, Elmhurst and Corona.

Schools will be allowed to apply for financial assistance to bring and sustain these programs into their curriculum. The fair was hosted by NYC STEM Education Network in partnership with ExpandED Schools and Community School District 24. There is a total of $25,000 available in funding from ExpandED schools with awards capped at $5,000 per school. 

“STEM education really is just a window into the world,” said Ellen Darensbourg, the Grants Manager and STEM Support for Community School District 24, during the fair. “It really gives our kids a leg up into all the possibilities that are out there for them and it helps make what they learn everyday real and applicable.” 

Emma Banay, the Senior Director of STEM at ExpandED Schools, estimates that they should be able to assist about five to ten schools with the funding allocated to the school district. 

“There’s a real focus on creating high-quality engaging STEM experiences and making sure there is access and equity for those who have been historically excluded,” said Banay. “We want to engage students in a creative, critical thinking way so that they can express who they are and who they want to become.” 

Representatives from schools across the district were able to get detailed overviews from nearly 20 STEM providers in attendance. It was a forum for discussion and the first step towards partnerships between schools and STEM providers. 

Planning for the fair had been ongoing since early March when an initial “needs assessment” was conducted. The needs assessment entailed a survey created in tandem with District 24’s planning team to see what schools were looking for from STEM programs and gave them a setting to have their voices heard. 

“The survey was distributed to teachers and principals across the district to get a better feel for what they were looking for and a better understanding of what was going on in the district,” said Banay. 

Through this needs assessment, the coalition of STEM organizations learned that District 24 needed programming that supported multilingual learners, students with disabilities, and mixed-ability age groups. They also learned that there was a need for in-class programs, field trip locations and programming geared toward professional development. 

City Councilmember Julie Won, who represents District 26 in Queens, was in attendance and spoke about her own personal experience working in tech and how it helped lead her to where she is now. Won worked at IBM for close to a decade in various roles prior to becoming a councilwoman.

“It is so important that our schools have these programs and that our students are getting exposure from early on,” said Won. “I am grateful that everyone is here to make sure that we’re connecting our children to the most holistic education possible.” 

Similar fairs will be held for Community School District 4 in Harlem in August and Community School District 9 in the Bronx in November. 

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