Northeast elementary school students will raise and release trout and enjoy the foods they’ve grown from seed in a new after-school program starting this fall.
Mercyhurst University’s education department will offer the STEM & Vine program to introduce K-5 students to science, technology, engineering and math — and also computer science — as they relate to Northeast agriculture.
“STEM initiatives must be grounded in the community context to get students invested in hands-on science in their own backyard and then expand from there,” said Mercyhurst Education Department Chair Amy Burniston, a biologist and North East resident. “This program will be rich in STEM applications related to the Northeast agricultural industry.”
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The Northeast is part of the oldest and largest Concord grape growing region in the world along the southern shore of Lake Erie. It is also known for steelhead fishing in the lake’s tributary streams.
In addition to growing food and fish, STEM & Vine activities will include soil analysis, grape DNA extraction to learn about local grape origins, and learning about coding and robotics in use in grape harvesters and other equipment modern farm.
Special programs will be directed to kindergarten through second grade and third through fifth grade students. Bus transportation will be provided for participating students.
More information on the free STEM & Vine program, including registration details, will be provided via Northeast School District’s social media and parent notification system.
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The STEM & Vine program is funded by a $500,000 Pennsylvania Department of Education grant to Mercyhurst University.
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The grant will also provide summer and fall STEM programs open to the Northeast community. The first, on August 6 at Gibson Park, will include science activities and demonstrations, large equipment displays and yoga for kids, plus live music.
Other community events will focus on fishing, birding and native plants. There will also be tours of vineyards, farms and labs, as well as a farm-to-table meal.
Community, county and state organizations will partner with Mercyhurst to provide activities, demonstrations, tours and other resources for STEM & Vine students. Partner organizations include the North East Community Foundation, Erie County Horticultural Society, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Penn State Behrend’s Lake Erie Grape Research & Extension Center, Erie Insurance, Erie County Conservation District, North East Arts Council, McCord Memorial Library and North East in Bloom.
STEM & Vine will be the third educational program offered by Mercyhurst University in local elementary schools.
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Carpe Diem Academy, launched in 2010, provides after-school literacy, math, art and science enrichment programs for K-2 students in the Erie School District. Almost 190 students participated this school year.
Mercyhurst Early Learning Innovation Academy, launched in Northwest School District in 2019, offers preschool plus after-school and weekend enrichment programs for K-2 students. In 2021-2022, 139 students participated.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s multi-year funding for the Erie, Northwestern and Northeast programs so far totals $5.5 million.