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The Forest City YMCA has started seven STEAMS programs this year for middle school students in grades five through eight for the first time.

The programs are Grease Monkeys, Inquisitive Coders, Hammer Time, Imaginative Illustrators, Lego Robotics, Y Stompers and Mad Scientists. Funding for the programs came from a 3M grant.

STEAMS stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math and Skilled Trades, and each of these classes is designed to incorporate at least one of these aspects.

Tony Reynolds, director of programs at the Forest City YMCA, said he wanted to do something with STEM to try to reach kids who aren’t as interested in their sports programs, such as his son, Hayden.

“I wanted to try to reach these kids who maybe aren’t interested in our basketball programs or our football programs and give them something to be involved in, especially the middle school age where extracurricular activities aren’t that prevalent yet,” he said. “They’re doing band during the day and they’ve got some P.E. classes, but there’s not much more than that outside of the scope of their day-to-day activities.”

The grant required the programs be sustainable throughout the year and not last only one year.

In drawing up these programs for the grant, Reynolds said he put himself into a middle-schooler’s mind to see what they would be interested in that would also provide some life skills.

After looking to see what is currently available to kids and meeting with people, such as the president of North Iowa Area Community College to talk about different program ideas, everything boiled down to the seven programs being offered, Reynolds said.

So far, the student registration limits for the current three programs, Grease Monkeys, Inquisitive Coders and Hammer Time, have been hit which ranges from 10 to 20 kids.

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Reynolds said equipment, space and the number of students one teacher can teach at a time set the limits for each class. He tries to open registration for each class one month before it starts, and when he opened registration for the Hammer Time class, it filled up in one day.

“I think through all of our programs, we should be able to involve over 100 kids,” Reynolds said.

After all the snow days and canceled sessions, the Grease Monkeys class, in which the students disassemble and reassemble four lawn mower engines donated to the YMCA, is looking to finish sometime in early April.

Hayden Reynolds, who participated in the Grease Monkeys and Inquisitive Coders programs so far, said he likes to build things and wants a job in the building and engineering field.

“[I signed up because of] the fact we’re building an engine and it’s going to run and that we’re literally going through the process it takes an engineer to build a machine,” he said.

In the Hammer Time class, the students will build a new playhouse for Sunshine Park because the current playhouse at the park is in severe disrepair. However, if the Forest City Parks and Recreation Department is hesitant in accepting the new playhouse, then the kids will be using it as an equipment shed for the new learning garden the YMCA is also starting, Reynolds said.

“The philanthropic side of this, the kids not only get the opportunity to use their hands to build something but then to donate that to a worthy cause like Parks and Rec,” he said. “To me, that’s a win-win for everybody involved.”

From all the positive feedback from financial sources and the overwhelming success of the program so far, Reynolds said the YMCA will be applying for additional grants to expand the programs.

“Our vision is to turn the Y into a STEM hub here,” he said. “We want to offer summer camps and really expand what we’re doing, even entertained the idea of maybe hiring a STEM coordinator. That’s very higher-level thinking right now, but this has gone well enough that we see the value in it that we can see this becoming a very large part of what we do.”

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