Goodnight STEM Coaches Pay It Forward

A part of the mission of the Goodnight Scholars Program is to “…invest in students from low- and middle-income families in North Carolina studying in STEM or STEM education disciplines”. While this investment is most notable with the current scholars in the program, it also pours directly into the public school system of the state of North Carolina. One of those ways this happens is through the STEM Coaching initiative hosted by the Goodnight Scholars Program. 

During the 2018-2019 school year, the Goodnight Scholars Program identified a gap in its offerings to the greater North Carolina community. While established leadership opportunities like the Goodnight Ambassador program primarily had connections with prospective high school and community college students, there was a sense that more could be done to introduce younger kids to STEM related subjects who may not have the opportunity to experience so otherwise. 

Bailey Craddock, Program Coordinator of the Goodnight Scholars Program shared more about why this type of outreach is important for the program.  “We really wanted to address that achievement gap that exists within our own Wake county and rural counties as well, and allow students to see themselves in STEM and see themselves being successful in STEM.”

The STEM Coach initiative was developed as a way to address this opportunity area for the program. During that year, 9 Goodnight Scholars volunteered their time and knowledge to 11 different community partners through 43 different project-based learning experiences across the state, working directly with students in the K-8 age range. These activities included projects ranging from learning more about entomology by “building” their own bug, to exploring what it means to be a mechanical engineer through the construction of a boat. 

“That’s something that our partners echo…their students love the activities that we bring, but they’re also secondary to [the students] being able to form relationships with the STEM coaches and meet students at NC State,” Bailey shared. 

By the 2020-2021 school year, the initiative had 25 STEM Coaches and well established partnerships with 12 schools and organizations from across the state. Due to the impacts of COVID on safety and in-person interactions, the involvement of STEM coaches at these locations had to shift, but fortunately it didn’t stop. Instead of visiting every site, the STEM Coaches prepared over 900 individually packaged activity bags for students to keep the learning going on their own. 

“The STEM Coaches were really instrumental in suggesting ideas on how we could adapt, to still serve the students that we’ve formed these great relationships with, quite possibly when they needed it most” said Bailey. “We’d get together and package these bags and send them to the sites…[and] provided instructional materials to the teachers and Boys and Girls Club leaders to do these activities with the students”. For partners who were allowing in-person deliveries, the STEM coaches would drive the activity bags to their sites for them to then distribute to their students. 

While in-person engagement with the students is always ideal, the shifts made during this past school year have exposed the program to new ways to expand its reach while remaining true to the core values of the initiative. Bailey and the STEM Coaches recognize the opportunity to continue offering these do it yourself learning experiences and hosting mass activity bag packing parties to serve program partners in additional ways, even as the state continues to open back up. 

“Realistically, we are limited by driving distance…there is simply no way to reach western North Carolina on a Wednesday afternoon. But can we create videos and mail 200 bags to a school for a teacher to lead with? Absolutely. It’s really opened our eyes to how we can reach rural counties without having to be physically present”.

With the growth of programmatic offerings also comes the expansion of the STEM Coach team. In the 2021-2022 school year 29 current Goodnight Scholars will serve as STEM Coaches to the now 13 partners across the state; both the largest totals in the history of the Goodnight Scholars Program. Bailey looks forward to bringing in this innovative approach into the new school year and is excited to continue developing the STEM Coach initiative in the future.