STEM education and video gaming will soon be coming to a library near you.
The Video Game Clubs of America, a national nonprofit organization founded by a Chambersburg teacher, is teaming up with the Franklin County Library System to host the “Public Library STEM Club Initiative.”
Made possible with a $499,200 PAsmart Advancing Grant, the program will engage 50 libraries in seven counties in central and western Pennsylvania to promote computer science, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and social-emotional learning through gaming clubs for kids in grades seven through 12, according to a news release from the Wolf Administration.
The initiative will expand upon a similar program that has been going on at libraries in public schools for two years, according to Josh Bound, a social studies teacher at the Chambersburg Area Career Magnet School and founder of the Video Game Club of America.
“We started gaming clubs in schools to promote social skills and friendship,” he said. “It’s not about winning, it’s about hanging out and getting the kids to be a part of society.”
With a similar grant program limited to schools, the club that Bound first started at the magnet school now runs in 20 schools.
The library initiative will be significantly bigger, both in reach and scope. Members will meet once a week for two hours to play video games and socialize and one Saturday each month to do a STEM- or STEAM-based activity (the latter acronym includes the arts), Bound said.
The first Saturday activity will be building a video game computer, he said.
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The bulk of the grant money will go toward buying the materials for the STEM projects, many of which come with hefty price tags. Each library will get iPads, a gaming computer, a web streaming camera, a green screen and a 3D printer, among other items, Bound said.
Kids and teens who participate will have opportunities “to do things they wouldn’t be able to do on their own,” Bound said. It’s too expensive and often intimidating for the average kid to, for example, build a computer from scratch, he added.
“This club will help get kids past being scared” to try complex STEM projects, Bound said.
The program was developed with rural and lower socioeconomic areas in mind, Bound said. The program will operate in counties generally in the western half of the state, where census figures show household incomes are less than in the wealthier Philadelphia region.
The Public Library STEM Club Initiative will also help Franklin County libraries expand their offerings. While some STEM-related programs have been held over the years, the libraries lean more toward the arts simply because that’s what staffers have experience in, said Sarah Applegate, director of youth services for the county library system.
She added that the library system does have a collection of “STEM toys” available for check-out, including coding games and Bee Bots, which are small robots designed to introduce kids to computer programming. The library system is also working with the local Lincoln Intermediate Unit, which provides a variety of educational services to school districts in the region, to develop programs where students could use these items.
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Bound said he can see the STEM Club introducing local libraries to new visitors.
It remains to be seen when the clubs will be ready to go at public libraries; Bound said he hopes the initiative can take off in a few weeks, while Applegate said the grant money should be dispersed by the end of the year and the clubs could launch in 2023.
The Public Library STEM Club Initiative is among 42 projects that won part of $20 million from the Pennsylvania Department of Education to expand access to STEM education across Pennsylvania. Greencastle-Antrim School District also received more than $499,000 for its project, “Building a Rural STEM Ecosystem: Growing Sustainable STEM Capacity in Franklin County and Beyond.”
Amber South is a reporter based at the Chambersburg Public Opinion, one of several local news outlets in the USA TODAY Network, and has been covering all kinds of stories in Franklin County and beyond since 2010. Email her at [email protected]