CSU Denver Extension partners with Denver Public Library to support after-school STEM programs for youth

“Without bees we wouldn’t have a lot of food.”

That’s just one of the things Dominic and four other youth learned at Denver Public Library’s Valdez-Perry Branch on Jan. 16.

Led by Denver 4-H agent Merielle Stamm, the entomology-focused activity was part of a new series of programming offered every Monday from 4 to 5 p.m. as part of a partnership between CSU Denver Extension and Denver Public Library.

“We wouldn’t be able to have Monday STEM programs if it wasn’t for [CSU’s] help,” said Armando Peniche Rosales, library program associate at Valdez-Perry Branch.

Filling the gaps

“Dedicating a day to something like STEM programming is a big deal,” said Valdez-Perry Branch Librarian Liam Gray. “It’s a lot to try and do on our own, to come up with curriculum, to try and provide experiences, resources, interactions that will be new for these kids.”

Peniche Rosales and Gray are jointly responsible for creating, executing, and evaluating the library’s regularly scheduled programming, so the addition of Denver Extension’s after-school programs has been a value-add.

“We’ve been making a really big push to make [this library] a welcoming environment, and that’s why we’re really glad this came along – because it was a perfect fit,” said Peniche Rosales, who has worked at multiple Denver Public Library locations during the past six years. “Merielle has been awesome with us; she does a great job, has a lot of patience, and talks to [the kids] like they’re people.”

Realizing the STEM activities are contending with the allure of the library’s computers, where kids can play popular games like Fortnite, Stamm tries to incorporate elements of food and art to make the activities as engaging as possible.

During Stamm’s most recent activity at the library, she taught participants about basic insect anatomy by helping them make edible honey clay from scratch, which they then used to sculpt their own model insects.

“The things we’ve been learning in the STEM programs are very conceptual, so it’s easy for the kids to understand; they have fun, and they don’t even realize that they’re learning so much,” said Peniche Rosales. “Everything has been hands-on, so it keeps them occupied and keeps their minds interested, engaged.”

Community benefit

Stamm and fellow Denver 4-H agent Jenia Hooper also supplement after-school programming at other sites in the Denver metro area, in partnership with other organizations such as The Bridge ProjectYMCA of Metro DenverDenver Parks and Recreation, and Denver Public Schools.

Hooper sees Denver Extension’s community outreach efforts and youth development programs as opportunities to bridge the rural-urban divide, by “really working with kids to connect with each other a little bit more so they can understand each other and where they come from.”

“It’s really important for young people to talk about those things and be proud of who they are,” said Hooper.

Gray agreed, yet noted the challenges he and Peniche Rosales have encountered in trying to engage more youth and families to participate in the library’s programs.

“Word of mouth, we’ve found, is the best way to do things around here – you have to go and meet people,” said Gray. “We knock on doors, we talk about the different programs we have, we go to meetings with different community organizations, to just try and get those programs out there.”

While attendance varies for the library’s after-school programs, Peniche Rosales said they usually see “a good seven or 10” youth show up for Denver Extension’s STEM program – a number they hope to grow as the program and partnership evolve.

“We realize that we don’t know it all, we don’t have it all,” said Gray. “We really want to use the resources that are available to us, because the community benefit, in the end, is the most important part.”

In 2022, the CSU System will open its doors to Spur, a three-building campus located at the site of the future National Western Center, less than a half-mile from the Valdez-Perry Branch Library. The outreach programming offered at the Valdez-Perry Library mirrors the type of permanent programming that will be at the Spur campus.

“[The Spur campus] will have so many cool classrooms and resources that we would love to incorporate into programming, and especially with the community [in north Denver],” said Stamm.

About CSU Denver Extension

Colorado State University’s Denver Extension is urban, inclusive, and engaged with the Denver community, and delivers non-credit programs driven by community demand, ranging in scope from youth development to nutrition education to Master Gardener training. All of Denver Extension’s traditional or legacy Extension programs have been urbanized to better adapt to the needs of Denver residents. Denver Extension is a partner of Denver Parks and Recreation and is located in Harvard Gulch Park (888 E. Iliff Ave., Denver). Learn more at denver.extension.colostate.edu.

About Spur: CSU System at the National Western Center

Coming in 2022: CSU System will open Spur, where innovative ideas and unforgettable experiences come to life at the National Western Center. Spur’s three buildings at the center of the landmark project in north Denver will ignite and fuel new ideas around water, food, and health and their impact on our lives and our world. Spur is where learning is open and accessible to all. Where researchers tackle the world’s most pressing problems around water, food, and health. Where art and culture challenge and surround you. Where rural and urban, local and global intersect. Learn more at nwc.colostate.edu.

About Denver Public Library

Founded in 1889, Denver Public Library is celebrating its 130th birthday. The library creates welcoming spaces where all are free to explore and connect. With 26 locations throughout Denver, the library provides essential resources to the community including early literacy programs, computer and internet access and training, family and adult programs. Learn more at denverlibrary.org and keep up on library news and events through social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.