From the Field to the Classroom: A Systems Approach to Bringing STEM Experts into Education through Purposeful Partnerships

From the Field to the Classroom: A Systems Approach to Bringing STEM Experts into Education through Purposeful Partnerships

United States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

This project answers the question: how do you provide quality STEM education to underserved communities with limited resources? The answer brought us to a new type of education: enriching education through local partnerships. The project inspires targeted at-risk and economically disadvantaged students in our afterschool programs to the world of STEM with access to inquiry-based project through these classes: Renewable Energy, Chemistry, Robotics, and Rocketry. Students are introduced to these sciences and build a project through the use of inquiry-based models approach to problem-solving. They are taught by Engineers, Scientists, and Program Assistants through a collaborative effort with local partners to bring the experts from the field into the classroom.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

High Desert Leapin' Lizards (HDLL) is located in a rural community in Kern County, two hours from any major metropolitan area. There are limited resources as a result of the isolation and small population of less than 30,000. Our afterschool programs are located at schools with at least 50% of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch (Faller is at 59.7%; Inyokern is at 70.3%, and Pierce is at 72%, 2009-10). Our programs target at-risk students through a priority rating system enrolling students with the most at-risk factors as well as income levels and parents enrolled in educational courses or working. All of our afterschool programs are provided free of charge and operational since 2007. All programs are overenrolled with a waiting list. HDLL is the only afterschool program in Ridgecrest that is free and targets at-risk youth and economically disadvantaged families. HDLL is the only afterschool program that is engaged in a collaborative for STEM programs through partnerships with Sierra Sands Unified School District, Department of the Navy’s Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, and Cerro Coso Community College. Our organization’s pivotal position in the city makes us especially well poised to provide these programs through this type of systemic change that connects existing assets in our community. The vision of this project was a result of seeing the difference between the access to science programs in highly-populated, urban areas that have vast resources as partners versus rural communities that are isolated from resources and partners, while housing a high-need community.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

This is an innovative approach for high quality STEM programs. In order for the United States to secure a stable economic future, we need to ensure a skilled, professional STEM workforce. First, our initiative introduces students in elementary school to STEM lessons to initiate an interest in the different fields, including Chemistry, Engineering, and applied Physics through our programs. More specifically, our programs target at-risk students in economically disadvantaged areas, serving an historically underserved community. Secondly, our initiative uses a hands-on, inquiry-based approach that prepares students for working in the field of applied sciences. Regardless of the specific subject matter within science, students learn the methodology that they will use as applied scientists. Thirdly, this initiative brings current experts and practitioners from the field to the classroom. This initiative pairs a practicing professional with a practicing educator to plan and teach a course, thereby exploiting what each does best. Lastly, this is a systems-changing approach of partnering with organizations to build a network that connects existing assets in our community in order to develop new capacity to innovate and sustain effective STEM teaching and learning in the classrooms. There are other organizations that are beginning to develop these alliances in communities. Our initiative stands out as having already developed the necessary steps and having implemented several successful programs. We are leading the way in this model of alliance building and capacity development.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Our organization takes a systemic approach to this project. We have developed and provide four classes due to our partnerships with the school district, the Department of the Navy, and the local community college. There are four STEM classes that students attend: Renewable Energy, Chemistry, Robotics, and Rocketry. Each course is taught by Engineers or Scientists who are working in the particular field, employed by NAWCWD and compensated by NAWCWD to teach the courses at the afterschool programs. Materials are provided by Cerro Coso Community College for the Renewable Energy course, NAWCWD for the Chemistry course, and Sierra Sands for Robotics, Rocketry, and Chemistry. The Renewable Energy course is in its pilot year. Three GATE students work with two Engineers to build a model solar-powered car through an inquiry-based approach. This will be developed into a course for 5th grade students at all sites. For Chemistry, a group of Chemists assigned to each school visits each grade level once a month and provides an introduction to what it means to be a Chemist, a standards-aligned Chemistry demonstration, and a problem-solving experiment for the students to complete. The Robotics course is in its third year. Two Engineers work with all students in grades 4 & 5 to build and program a robot in groups during a six-week course that rotates to each program site. The course outline was developed by the Robotics Professor at Cerro Coso Community College and the final objective is to program the robots correctly to complete a course designed by the Engineers. The Rocketry course will be piloted next year. Children learn about air resistance by designing, building, and testing parachutes and air-powered rockets. The Department of the Navy will provide the appropriate Engineers and Scientists and Sierra Sands Unified School District has already purchased the curriculum materials.
About You
High Desert Leapin' Lizards, Inc.
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

High Desert Leapin' Lizards, Inc.

Organization Phone

(760) 499-1770

Organization Address

1309 N. Norma Street, Ridgecrest, CA 93555

Organization Country
Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

Sandra Goldstein has been the Program Administrator of the Moving Beyond the Bell Afterschool Programs since its opening in March 2007, and has been involved in youth development and educational programs for over 10 years. Her love for science sparked her interest in STEM programs for kids, but she was especially determined to develop these programs after noting the lack of access to science activities for youth in low-income, rural communities that are extremely isolated and characterized by limited resources. Her solution was to build relationships with community partners that focused on STEM, including collegiate, federal, public, and private institutions in order to work collaboratively to provide kids with opportunities to engage in Science.
Sandra holds a Master's degree in Education and a teaching credential as well as a Bachelor’s degree in History, with an emphasis on the History of Science and a Minor in Political Science from the University of California, Los Angeles. She currently sits on the California Afterschool Network's Leadership Committee and works on the Network’s STEM in Out of School Time Workgroup to develop a Regional Innovation Center. She has been an Ambassador for the Afterschool Alliance, advocating for the importance of Afterschool Programs. Sandra has worked in a classroom for over 5 years, working with general education, special education and severely emotionally disturbed student populations. Furthermore, she has also worked as an Assistant Director and Youth Leadership Director in youth development programs for over 5 years.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

It is obvious that our strategies to provide STEM programs to disadvantaged youth has already been successful. We have developed four independent STEM programs and have implemented them at three afterschool programs. We will continue to develop STEM programs through collaborative partnerships and measure the success of membership and collaboration.
We currently collect data about student attendance in schools as a result of enrollment in STEM programs as well as attendance in the programs. During the 2009-2010 school year, we saw an increase in student school attendance for those enrolled in the program by 241 days of attendance at school, indicating an increase in school attendance. We have also conducted anecdotal surveys of enjoyment levels in the programs and have seen a high success rate. Last year, we received positive reviews from over 88% of the students in the programs, indicating high levels of enjoyment.
Next year we will be conducting pre and post surveys for each student who enrolls in a STEM program to inquire about interest in STEM activities before and STEM activities after they complete the program. Our goal is to measure overall impact in those enrolled in the STEM programs, particularly in relation to continuing education in the field. In two years we will begin tracking students who have attended the STEM programs to see ongoing education in the STEM fields through school opportunities and will be working with the local school district to engage in this research.

How many people have been impacted by your project?


How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?


How will your project evolve over the next three years?

In order to continue to progress with the project, we plan to do the following:
1. Monitor the STEM environment to see what are the up and coming STEM fields that need to be a focus of our program to act in concert with national initiatives
2. Present at regional conferences on providing effective STEM programs through purposeful collaboratives
3. Develop the scope of STEM partners by developing further collaborative relationships with other STEM partners to enhance the programs from 6-8 weeks to longer periods that are more in-depth
4. Focus our efforts on collecting and assessing data. We will be tracking students who completed the STEM program to see overall impact in the program for each.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

We anticipate that our principal challenge is creating consistency through the turnover in the scientists and engineers who teach the programs as collaborative partners with our classroom aids. Here are our plans that ensure continued consistency in the STEM programs:
1. We provide an overall induction for the scientists and tours of the sites; during which we review program objectives, assessments, practices and deliverables and overall program information.
2. Scientists teaching the courses always work in teams with at least one scientist who taught the previous year, ensuring consistency in knowledge from one year to the next. We prepare new scientists to take over a program by teaming them with an experienced scientist who taught for at least one year in our programs.
3. We hold a meeting at the end of each course with each team of scientists to note successes and needed improvements. Improvements are made and the notes are revisited at a meeting at the beginning of the next course so that everyone is informed.
4. Scientists keep a binder of activities that they developed and tools they utilized. Though curriculum remains the same, these activities modify the instruction. Binders are maintained and passed on with each consecutive team.
Our second challenge is the high need for these programs. We are currently overenrolled with a waiting list at each of site. We hope to continue to increase our enrollment abilities with increased funding.

Tell us about your partnerships

HDLL takes a systemic approach to this project. The organization has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Sierra Sands Unified School District to provide afterschool programs at the schools. The school district pays for all services rendered by HDLL. Sierra Sands Unified School District has an MOU with the Department of the Navy’s Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD), which is utilized by HDLL to provide this STEM project. The Naval Air Warfare Center pays for the teams of scientists that teach the STEM courses. HDLL also has a partnership with Ridgecrest’s Cerro Coso Community College for STEM projects. Cerro Coso Community College provides curriculum and material resources to supply the STEM courses. All collaborators meet at each level to assess effectiveness and develop outcome goals.

The most impressive collaboration between partners happens in the classroom. There we see Scientists and Engineers working with Program Assistants. Scientists and Engineers are the content knowledge experts and the Program Assistants are skilled in youth development and teaching strategies practices. Program Assistants are trained in our organization on inquiry-based teaching pedagogy yearly during the professional development workshops we present, while Scientists come highly-trained in their field. Together they combine their efforts to develop the program courses that are effective, engaging, and content-rich.

Explain your selections

HDLL's From the Field to the Classroom's initiative is supported through the collaborative efforts engaged to provide the STEM programs. HDLL receives funding through an MOU with Sierra Sands Unified School District. The programs are funded through a grant with the California Department of Education. Funding for the teams of Scientists and Engineers are provided by the federal government through the Department of the Navy. Funding for curriculum and equipment, besides through grant purchases, are provided by Cerro Coso Community College. A small percentage of our budget comes from donations from the community through private businesses and individuals. All programs are provided free of charge and have been sustained since our founding.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

HDLL’s initiative, From the Field to the Classroom, is supported through collaborative efforts. Primary funding is provided by a grant from the California Department of Education. Grant funding is secured as a result of student attendance. HDLL’s afterschool programs have been overenrolled, with a waiting list at each site since it became operational. We have completed a universal grant to increase funding and enrollment at one of the three sites and will be filing a second universal grant to increase funding and enrollment at a second site. HDLL will be completing a federal grant as well with collaboration with Sierra Sands Unified School District to open a fourth site with similar funding levels. The Department of the Navy continues to pay for the teams of Scientists and Engineers.

Our main focus in the next three years is to collect data. With funding secured, partnerships established, and practices developed we will be concentrating on measuring the overall impact of the STEM programs on the students who enrolled and completed the courses. Data collection tools are being developed by a team and will begin the trial phase next year.

Partnerships and Accountability
Please tell us more about how your partnership was formed and how it functions. What specific role does each partner play? What unique resources does each partner bring to the initiative?

There are four primary partners involved in the From the Field to the Classroom STEM initiative in a systems-changing approach of partnering for capacity-building to innovate and sustain effective STEM teaching and learning in the classrooms. The collaborative is a myriad of varying organizations bringing different perspectives and ideas to the table.
HDLL houses and services the students in our afterschool programs and provides professional development in youth development and inquiry-based teaching strategies for the Program Assistants who are ultimately responsible for the care of the students.
Sierra Sands Unified School District provides fiscal funding through the program’s grant. The district also plays the role of liaison between HDLL and the Navy through an MOU, acting as a conduit.
The Department of the Navy’s Naval Air Warfare Center Weapon’s Division (NAWCWD) provides the Scientists and Engineers from the field to provide the STEM instruction, in conjunction with HDLL Program Assistants, pairing a practicing scientist from NAWCWD with a practicing educator from HDLL to plan and teach a course. Each is an expert; one in education and the other in the science content.
Cerro Coso Community College provides curriculum and resources to HDLL for STEM classes, particularly in STEM areas that they currently have classes for at the college level. The college’s main focus is to engage students in these focused areas to ensure that they will enroll in these programs at the college in successive years.

How are you building in accountability for students' successful STEM learning outcomes? Please provide a summary and examples.

STEM learning outcomes will be measured by several scales. First, student will be assessed through pre and post surveys that focus on interest levels in the STEM activity before and after engaging in the program. The second will through the assessment of attendance data to evaluate if students are attending the STEM program. During the 2010-2011 school year, 100% of eligible students attended the STEM program activities. The third is through student surveys to evaluate the enjoyment levels of each student in the program. During the last two years, from 2009-2011, we had an 88% or higher approval rating by students in the STEM programs. Lastly, the information from the anecdotal close-out meeting with each team of Scientists and Engineers to discuss successes and challenges will be continued. This will effect strategic planning and has resulted in small shifts in our operations. For example, in 2009 we discovered that it was best to have a team of Scientists engage in each STEM course so that there was overlap and consistency every year.


Investment, Marketing/Media, Research/Information.

Please use this space to elaborate on your selection above and/or to add needs that may not be listed.

We will need financial support as we continue to progress in our practices of providing STEM programs to disadvantaged students in rural communities.


Human Resources/Talent, Collaboration/Networking, Innovation/Ideas, Mentorship.

Please use this space to elaborate on your selection above and/or to add offers that may not be listed.

We are working with our regional partners to help facilitate these types of collaborative processes for other afterschool programs and will be presenting these systemic approaches of collaboration to provide STEM activities in afterschool programs at a regional conference for other afterschool program practitioners. We will be presenting on these practices at a regional conference in November. We are always eager to help others in their STEM efforts.