November 5, 2018 5:08 pm

You’ve heard of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and the push to get more young people interested in these fields. Add “Arts” to the mix and you have STEAM, the focus of the Lakewood Computer Clubhouse, a free after-school program for students ages 8-18.

“It’s the intersection of STEM with creativity,” says Stella Kemper, who runs the program. (Kemper’s official title is Makerspace and STEAM Specialist.)

“We provide a space for kids to pursue their own interests,” says Kemper. “Kids get to be creative and make things using technology. They’ve been in school all day. This is meant to be fun.”

Based at Lochburn Middle School in the Clover Park School District, the clubhouse is part of an international network affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) since the early 1990s.

Locally, funding comes from community organizations, including Pierce College, the City of Lakewood, Best Buy and others. Clover Park School District provides the space, infrastructure and after-school transportation for students. Pierce College provides college student mentors (through paid internships) and donates retired computer equipment.

The clubhouse is open 5 days a week from 3:15-5:30 p.m. Students choose what computer programs they want to work with and how they want to use their time. Most are middle-schoolers.

“The kids range from being super into gaming or coding to kids who just want to hang out after school,” says Kemper. “Most kids do creative gaming and projects where they can actually make things, using the 3-D printer.”

On a typical day, between six and 15 students attend the Clubhouse. That’s why having adult mentors onsite is so helpful, according to Kemper.

“We want to make sure that each student gets one-on-one time with an adult,” Kemper says. “We’re always looking for more mentors so that we can customize the program for each child.”

Through paid internships, Pierce College students such as Christel Pie serve as mentors. Pie is pursuing an associate’s degree in kinesiology with the goal of eventually becoming a physical education teacher.

“This is a great opportunity to work with kids,” she says. “They’re fun to hang out with and they teach me as well.  It’s nice to see the future — these kids are our future.”

No special skills in computer science are needed to serve as a mentor, according to Kemper.

 “Our focus is on helping kids develop skills in problem-solving, socialization and how to finish a project with someone else,” says Kemper.

Pie adds, “Being there as college students, hopefully we can help plant the seed for these kids to want to pursue a college education themselves.”

For more information on how to become a mentor at the Computer Clubhouse, contact skemper@pierce.ctc.edu.