Students learn skills with SWAG

Southern Illinois University



Students learn skills with SWAG

February 05, 2013, Kayli Plotner

Carbondale Middle School students have had a little more incentive to finish their homework early.

The university’s automotive and aviation departments teamed up with the after-school program Students With A Goal to offer students six weeks of hands-on activities that involve sound and radio waves, rockets and gliders, alternative fuel and autonomous vehicle technology. The program was started last year to help students in grades 6-8 for one hour before school and two hours after through tutoring and enrichment activities.

Steven Goetz, assistant instructor of aviation management, said the university got involved when the department’s grant proposal for such activities expired. The departments learned of the SWAG program through the grant application process and decided to use the grant proposal materials to benefit middle school students, he said.

“These are neat industries that really lend themselves to imagination,” he said. “Most kids grow up and they turn something into an airplane, or they make something into a toy car. We wanted to use this idea of innate play that comes out of these industries and get kids interested in the science and the math that has to go into them.”

Whitney West, 21st Century Elementary Learning Center assistant director, said the goal is to help students raise their grades in troublesome areas but also work on basic reading, writing and math.

“Like with the wood working, it’s something interesting and a life skill that they’ll be able to use later on but you’re also able to work math in there,” she said.

Stuart Parks, 21st Century Elementary Learning Center director, said the idea behind the automotive and aviation unit was to expose students to content they might see on the upcoming ISAT test.

“Some of the terminology they’re going to see on there teachers haven’t necessarily had a possibility to get to during the school year just yet, and that is due largely in part to the timing of the test,” he said. “We aren’t even three-fourths of the way through the school year, and we’re already assessing kids.”

However, the program itself —along with the university’s help —has been nothing but helpful for the students, who Parks said enjoy the automotive and aviation unit the most.

“We have found, overall, in our last year and a half that the grades, attitudes and discipline

of our students is showing a great increase,” he said. “Our idea was to do hands-on activities and to be able to teach some of the terminology that they might see on that test, and it’s just been a great success.”

Students also work on projects such as building birdhouses, cryptography, culinary arts and broadcasting, West said.

“I’m hoping that they’re starting to get an appreciation that there’s more out here than just what’s in a textbook,” Goetz said. “There’s more ways to look at these things than just what they see in front of them.”

Lorelei Ruiz, associate professor of aviation, was one of the program’s instructors and helped teach students how to make plastic foam rockets, test them to learn how different thrusts and angles affect their travel. She then let them apply that knowledge to a rocket golf game, which is essentially the same as Frisbee golf but with rockets.

“It’s to help them see how what they’re doing in those classes applies to what they could be doing in a career later on,” Ruiz said.

The partnership within the program also shows its importance as university enrollment declines, Parks said. Carbondale citizens should do their part to help increase those numbers, he said.

“Not only are we getting the experts that can come and teach

the students hands on activities, but I also see it as a major recruiting tool for SIU in the fact that some of these students are entering high school next year,” he said. “They’re going to be thinking about where to attend post-secondary education. Why not SIU, if it’s right here on top of us.”

Goetz said the program could be a long-term recruitment tool, but that wasn’t the initiative behind it.

“SIU’s name is out there in the community,” he said. “My hope is that when these students are looking into college, they may remember doing something kind of neat through this program, and it was SIU that got involved in it.”

The SWAG program will also hold a family night Feb. 5, which will feature a dinner and guest speaker Anna Jackson, English lecturer at the university. Parks said parents and family members of any students involved are welcome.

“Hopefully they’ll come away motivated because we’re really concentrating heavily on being a positive influence on your community and being a good role model around your school,” he said. “I’m hoping they’ll come away with information that will help them be better citizens and better students.”