In subjects that are traditionally male-dominated, girls at Bullskin Township Elementary School are thriving since the establishment of an all-girl STEM club at the school.
“I wanted to have a place where girls felt safe in experimenting with STEM related activities,” said Kristin Pavlovich, former media specialist at the Connellsville Area School District elementary who started and continues to operate the club for fifth-grade girls, which is now in its second year.
Prior to the 2017-18 school year, Pavlovich secured a grant to create the club — dubbed the #BEGirlsMakers Club — for 20 fifth-grade girls at the school with an interest in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math.
The impetus of the club was a need she saw while working with students in her library lessons for an environment where girls could work independently of their male counterparts.
“In library classes, with activities like this, the girls were afraid to try or afraid to fail. They deferred to the boys and let the boys take the lead,” said Pavlovich.
The club meets in the Bullskin Township Elementary library once a week for an hour to work on a STEM activity, working with science kits on projects focused on a variety of topics including circuits, coding and robotics, among others.
Pavlovich said the club has given girls the push needed to be more confident and assertive in the classroom.
“By the end of (last) school year, my fifth-grade girls were not deferring to the boys anymore. They were teaching the boys how to do activities. They were proud of themselves. There was certainly an increase in their ability and in their confidence,” said Pavlovich.
The #BEGirlsMakers Club was funded through an Innovation Grant awarded by Chevron and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.
Innovation Grants, which are awarded annually to numerous classrooms across southwestern Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia to expand STEM and STEAM programming, seek to encourage school districts in rural communities to develop engaging programs and curricula with innovation and design serving as the driving force behind STEM or STEAM education.
The club, now in its second year through another Innovation Grant, has expanded to include more female students. A new crop of fifth-grade girls now rotate on a two-month basis so everyone in the grade can participate, and they are joined by girls in grades K-2 as part of the new #BEMiniMakers.
“We will reach every K-2 girl in the school. The fifth-grade girls facilitate the learning to the little ones,” said Pavlovich, adding that a fifth-grader is partnered with a younger student for each session.
Older and younger students work one-on-one with activities such as Bristlebot robots, Squishy Circuits conductive dough, K’nex motorized building sets and Fizzy Foamy Science chemistry kits.
“Having the attention of another girl that’s teaching you something that is a nontraditional female activity is going to spur that confidence that might not happen if I were teaching them as a group,” said Pavlovich.
The fate of the club is unknown, however. Funding is not a certainty when the grant for the current school year expires, although Pavlovich, who is now the media specialist at the district’s middle school, hopes the club can continue in some capacity.
“Last year, kids were asking for (STEM) activities for Christmas. With such a video game-centered environment, for a kid to ask for a science kit for Christmas is pretty amazing,” she said.