The STEM Shack, LLC is a dream of mine that culminated from my experiences with teaching and mentoring young people. Over the years, the gaps in public education have become increasingly larger and more noticeable. These gaps include a lack of “Student-Centric Support,” a large “Digital Divide,” and lack of support for “Neurodiverse Education,” and with the onset of COVID-19, they have only widened. The STEM Shack is my solution to these gaps and other issues with education as it stands today. I want to empower learners of all ages with the power of technology and its applications. This article explores some of the research and reasoning I have built the mission, vision, and principles of The STEM Shack around.
Education versus Students
Perceptions of Student Success
There is a myth that an average student out there will not reach greatness, but they will probably end up in a menial, low-paying job regardless (Veselak, 2018). Thirty years of rigorous policies and invested money to maintain an educational system based on standardized testing have given students and teachers an inaccurate perception of learner abilities and potential. Such policies and perceptions have created a system of elitism that leaves too many learners behind. With an estimated 6.6 million public school students identified as “Special Needs,” over 13% of our student base is left to parent, community, and self-support for their well-being and academic enrichment (Butrymowicz & Mader, 2018).
Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court case Endrew F. vs. Douglas County School District set the precedent that all students with disabilities have a right to Free Appropriate Public Education, imparting districts with basic minimum requirements for supporting students. Failure to meet the minimum requirements could result in litigation against districts and decreased community trust in public education (Couvillon, Yells, & Katsiyannis, 2018).
The Hungry Learner
1 in 7, or over 14% of public-school students, in the United States live in a food-insecure household. For many children, school is the only reliable place to get a meal or two. Chronically hungry students experience significant physical and psychosocial effects, including difficulties with learning and concentration. How do we allow children to go hungry as the wealthiest country in the world? It’s time to dedicate more money to school breakfasts and lunches for our students instead of spending over $1.2 Billion annually on education and healthcare costs related to food insecurity (Hecht, Pollack, K. M., & Turner, 2020). With COVID-19, the estimated food insecurity in the United States is over 50 million people, and children are the most vulnerable (Feeding America, 2020).
Mental Health and Learning
From approximately 2nd grade on, I have noticed that teachers begin to tighten their disciplinary policies with strict and over-bearing requirements for compliance. The fear-based discipline becomes more of the norm than the exception. Fear is an opposing force to learning and is an undesirable state in an academic environment. Many teachers and staff in public schools regularly use sarcasm, microaggressions, and public humiliation to discipline students, which trigger the fear-based brain to a fight, flight, or freeze state.
As many as 70% of teachers are uncomfortable interacting with a student with a mental health disorder, even though that number has more than tripled over the past decade (St-Onge & Lemyre, 2018). Over 11% of Americans have faced extreme mental and emotional distress within the past 30 days, and that is before the onset of COVID-19. Families, caregivers, children, and teachers are all experiencing stress levels that are not conducive to learning and well-being (Blanchflower & Oswald, 2020).
Public Education and Neurodiversity
Neurodiversity is very similar to ethnic or racial diversity in that one group remains oppressed while others enjoy privileges that come with a lack of diversity. When the importance of diversity is embraced and celebrated, the differences between people become strengths; however, when diversity is ignored or belittled, it becomes a systemic problem. Public schools in the United States are ill-equipped to handle the variations in how neurodiverse students learn, communicate, and solve problems because of the emphasis on standardized testing and supporting neurotypical students. Neurodiversity includes what we currently identify as Autism, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Gifted Minds, Anxiety, Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive, mental illness, and more.
Dr. Niki Elliott (2018) from the Center for Neurodiversity, Learning, and Wellness at the University of La Verne says, “It is time for society to break down those barriers and evolve to better serve these learners. When we focus on a person’s limitations or provide inflexible learning environments, we bury potential gifts to society forever.”
The STEM Shack, LLC
I created The STEM Shack, LLC as a 501c3, non-profit organization for providing accessible STEM education services, resources, and learning opportunities for all ages. COVID-19 revealed the vulnerabilities of our education and family systems, and it was clear that there needed to be additional supports and opportunities for learning technology, especially for neurodiverse learners. The STEM Shack is a solution for parents, teachers, caregivers, community leaders, and more to learn STEM skills, knowledge, and abilities for a better community.
Student Success is our primary objective at The STEM Shack. We understand that there is no one standard for success, except that supporting a student throughout their learning journey is paramount.
Holistic learning is our secondary objective at The STEM Shack. We use evidence-based research and life-experience to provide a safe and inclusive learning environment for our learners. We partner with local charities, companies, and organizations to ensure that all of a student’s needs are met so that learning without barriers can occur.
Learning Solutions at The STEM Shack are based on scholarly, peer-reviewed research and training in education, neuroscience, gamification, mental health, STEM, and more. This last and final goal is to motivate and engage our learners in STEM learning while enrolled in our programs. Our lessons are tailored to support various neurotypes, learning levels, and pathways towards success while also remaining affordable and accessible.
As the founder of The STEM Shack, LLC, I hope to help build a neuro-revolution where neurodiversity is celebrated, and adaptive learning is the norm. I want to see an education system that includes all students and families in the learning process while providing holistic support and opportunities. Until that time comes, The STEM Shack will become the solution for those gaps and provide your learner with the best possible learning program available.
Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (2020). Trends in Extreme Distress in the United States, 1993–2019. American Journal of Public Health, 110(10), 1538–1544. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2020.305811
Butrymowicz, S., & Mader, J. (2018). The U.S. Education System Is Failing Special Needs Students. Education Digest, 8, 26.
Couvillon, M. A., Yell, M. L., & Katsiyannis, A. (2018). Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (2017) and special education law: What teachers and administrators need to know. Preventing School Failure, 62(4), 289–299. https://doi.org/10.1080/1045988X.2018.1456400
Elliott, N. (2018). Neurodiversity: The Next Frontier in Social Justice. Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 35(10), 32.
For people facing hunger, poverty is just one issue. (n.d.). Retrieved December 03, 2020, from https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/facts
Hecht, A. A., Pollack Porter, K. M., & Turner, L. (2020). Impact of The Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act on Student Nutrition, Behavior, and Academic Outcomes: 2011–2019. American Journal of Public Health, 110(9), 1405–1410. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2020.305743
St-Onge, M., & Lemyre, A. (2018). Assessing Teachers’ Attitudes Towards Students with Mental Health Disorders in 16 Postsecondary Institutions in Quebec. International Journal of Disability, Development & Education, 65(4), 459–474. https://doi.org/10.1080/1034912X.2017.1406068
Veselak, K. M. (2018). Teachers’ Beliefs About the Purpose of Education in a High-Stakes Testing Environment. National Teacher Education Journal, 11(3), 107–120.