by Carol Robidoux
Before they could celebrate with a pizza party or dive into the big cake, the 30 students from the Manchester school district who participated in UNH Manchester’s EXCELL in STEM summer program had to earn the spoils of their scientific experience.
All that happened Aug. 1, when the students gathered at UNH Manchester, supported by family members and faculty, to receive their certificates of completion during a brief but lively graduation ceremony.
The five-week program for middle and high school students combines English language skill building with hands-on learning through lab and classroom work, as well as field trips. The idea is that learning the language is accelerated through real-world activities that stimulate the students’ interest, said Michael Pugh, who took over the program in 2005 and, as of graduation 2018, is passing the baton to Emily Kerr, who will take over as program director.
This year students rose to computer and engineering challenges, and were immersed in nature to study biology and marine life, including a field trip to Odiorne Point State Park in Rye, which turned out to be William Ondoua’s favorite experience.
William will be a senior at West High School in the fall, arriving to Manchester from Cameroon, Africa, just 10 months ago. He said his future goal would be to become a programmer, and learn to create computer games.
Amani Idris, 16, who will be a sophomore at West, said she found learning about DNA to be the most interesting discovery of the summer. Amani arrived to Manchester two years ago from the Sudan, and says her current goal is to become a nurse after high school.
Both countries of Cameroon and Sudan have been in upheaval, embroiled in war and deadly violence. William and Amani said they are slowly adjusting to life in Manchester, where the greatest challenge has been learning the language and being able to communicate. They said the program has helped them, and also allowed them to form new friendships.
Each graduate was called to the stage to receive their certificates, and their teachers offered a personal acknowledgement of the hard work each student had put forth, citing specific examples – students who were most improved, or who showed particular skills in the various learning activities, which included science experiments, bug collection and marine biology, with emphasis on inquiry, observation, analysis of data, and coding.
Kerr says the STEM learning activities incorporate English language tasks into everyday academic reading and research, vocabulary building, writing, listening, and speaking exercises.
The program was sponsored by the UNH STEM Discovery Lab, UNH Cooperative Extension, Southern NH Services, and the Manchester School District.
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