Mentors needed as STEM grant awarded to expand program

The Cranston Herald ·

Comprehensive Community Action Program and the YMCA were recently awarded fiscal responsibility of the STEM Mentoring out-of-school-time grants in Cranston.

As a whole, OneCranston, an initiative of CCAP, also received $20,000 in additional funding to serve 24 more mentees through its current programming, bringing the total award to $60,000.

“The STEM mentoring program was for the third grade and used to be housed strictly with the school district,” said OneCranston’s Ayana Crichton. “Now we’re running it through CCAP with the OneCranston initiative. Our Youth Opportunity Zone’s working group’s main focus has been out-of-school time programs including before care, after care and summer care.”

Crichton has had a connection with Mystic Aquarium and Sea Research Foundation for more than 10 years and brought that connection when she came on board at her previous job in Cranston at Bain.

“They provide hands-on activities with local environmentally-based job opportunities,” she said. “Experts in the field at the aquarium share information about their jobs and provide fun, hands-on starter opportunities for elementary kids. It’s like testing the water for any interest in this area. There are over 100 jobs at the aquarium and they’re always looking for skilled workers.”

The new grant funding will allow expansion of the after school STEM mentoring program, which provides one teacher for every 12 students and four mentors from the community in each group.

“We are looking for mentors ages 12 and up,” she said. “A lot of middle school students are very interested in mentoring the younger students. It provides a connector for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders with seventh and eighth-graders.”

Not only will the program be able to serve many more students in the Gladstone and Edgewood Highland communities, but it will also allow for expansion to the Cranston YMCA site.

“It’s not a huge time commitment, either. It’s one hour a week that gives you an opportunity to connect with a Cranston youth on an out-of-school level,” she said.

The grant expansion allows for the program to expand from serving 24 students to 72 students and incorporate the third site.

“All mentors will be trained in STEM mentoring and teacher facilitators are trained as well,” she said. “Adult mentors are BCI checked and student mentors are very carefully chosen.”

The grant also allows for technical access to quality STEM programs and free access to Mystic Aquarium.

The STEM curriculum includes three modules – a Moon Challenge that utilizes Legos and computers; a World of Water module, which Crichton cites as a student favorite each year and this year will connect to a new exhibit at Mystic Aquarium called Long Island Sound; and Crazy Eights, which is a mathematics module that is also a student favorite.

Caitlin Blankenship, OneCranston’s community engagement specialist, also cited the opportunity for students to share their knowledge and experiences from the program.

“At the end of the Moon Challenge module, the students have the chance to do a Lego Expo at all three sites. They invite in community partners as well as family members to judge and to see what they’ve created,” she said. “There are awards for challenges like the most creative or most unique. It’s a chance for them to showcase their learning.”

Crichton noted that the success of the program is thanks to the collaborative efforts of many people, including Mystic Aquarium’s vice president of outreach, Katie Cubina, volunteer and scientist Dr. Jesse Jordan of Global Science and Envirotech, Cranston Public Libaries, Edgewood Highland Principal Marlene Gamba and Gladstone administrators Susan Buonanno and Keith Croft.

Joanne McGunagle, CEO and president of CCAP, noted that the population of students being served by the out-of-school mentoring project are in need of this type of expanded opportunities such trips to the beach or aquarium, as many have never had the opportunity to visit such places, even while living in the Ocean State. The project helps to expand their horizons and point in them in the direction of career exploration that they may not have been previously exposed to or ever thought about before.

“When Ayana first brought this to my attention, I was at first unsure as to whether or not it made sense to run it through here, but the more I learned about the activities and the themes and how it gets kids involved in science and technology, I realized it was perfect for our population, and a wonderful opportunity for us,” she said. “For many of our kids at the youth center, this is the only opportunity they will have to get this experience.”

According to Crichton, those wishing to volunteer their time as one of the 24 mentors will be involved during the springtime months through the first week of June and during the months of August through December, once per week on Thursdays, from 3- 4 p.m. for Edgewood Highland and Gladstone Elementary Schools, with potentially slightly different hours at the YMCA location.

Anyone interested in volunteering their time as a mentor can contact Crichton directly at