Girls Rise to STEAM at Phoenix Academy

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Art in Action was honored to receive a grant from the Junior League of Palo Alto-Mid Peninsula to work with underserved girls to create awareness around STEAM education. 

We’ve had the privilege to work with a group of fourteen eighth-grade girls at the Aspire Phoenix Academy in East Palo Alto.  These girls were chosen by their school principal to participate in the program based on being the top performing students in the school. The project spans from October 2019 to May 2020 and we visit twice a month.  


For our project, the girls at Aspire Phoenix are creating a STEAM lesson for first graders based on one of the NGSS first grade science standards. After going through the process of researching various science topics,  the students decided to focus their lesson on the topic of heredity. Specifically, on the concept that young animals are similar, but not identical, to their parents. Using pictures of butterflies as parents, the students have been creating offspring butterflies that combine attributes of both butterfly parents.  

The students have been having a great time exploring a variety of art supplies and materials developing the project, but it quickly became evident that many did not have a consistent arts education and lacked experience using different mediums. They didn’t have basic art making skills and didn’t know art related vocabulary. Concepts such as mixing primary colors to make secondary colors were particularly challenging for them. Some also wanted to rely on templates of butterflies instead of free hand drawing butterflies. Throughout our work with them we have learned many new ways to work with students who may have limited art experience, and to tailor lessons to meet the experience level of all students. The final project medium the students settled on was chalk pastel. 


One piece of feedback we received was that it is incredibly valuable for the girls to learn that there are many more jobs in the STEM fields available to them than just being a doctor or nurse (the two STEM professions most commonly named in the class). In our next phase of work, we will respond to this feedback by bringing in women who work in science to make presentations on their jobs. Our first mentor will be Rachel Hodan, a Licensed Certified Genetic Counselor from Stanford, who will share with the girls how a genetic counselor works with hospital patients treating their illness. Next month we will host Jasi Atwal, a neurobiologist who works in Neuroscience Research at Genentech, focused on developing new medicines for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. 

We are excited to continue our work with the amazing girls at Phoenix Academy, as well as with the inspiring and hardworking ladies of the Junior League of Palo Alto-Mid Peninsula. 


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