By: Sarah Colburn
Colorfully painted newspaper-style boxes will be popping up throughout the St. Cloud community after Labor Day to give kids free access to art supplies and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) kits.
The project is an expansion of the Yes Network’s summer program that distributed 4,000 art, music, STEM and dance kits a week to children receiving food services through the organization. The organization distributed a total of 20,000 kits this summer.
“Kids learn best by really creating with their hands and making and building and exploring,” said Alicia Peters, art director of the Yes Network.
With distance learning and flexible school plans, she said, kids have spent more time than ever in front of technology.
“To be able to sit down with some tools and materials and art supplies and really dig their hands into it (is important),” she said. “We also hope family members will gather around and open up the kit together and engage in making together.”
The kits will initially reside at the COP House — the St. Cloud Rotary Richard C. Wilson Community OutPost — at 600-13th St. S., in the Promise Neighborhood and in the Bel Claire Estates neighborhood.
The goal, Peters said, is for the supply stands to reside in one location for a while and move to other areas throughout the year to help children in a number of communities. The kits will be labeled and there will be different projects for elementary school students, middle school students and teenagers.
The boxes will be refilled with 120 new kits each week through spring break. The kits will be aligned with St. Cloud Area School District curriculum.
Hannah Pfannenstein is a senior at the College of St. Benedict studying elementary education. She began working with the Yes Network two years ago and now is coordinating the STEM kits that will be distributed in the boxes.
The kits contain every single item a child would need to complete a project. One of the first kits Pfannenstein is putting together focuses on color and contains two cups, a paper towel and some markers as well as instructions on how to complete the project. One of her projects has students growing a rainbow. She instructs them to use the markers to draw a rainbow on a paper towel and then put it in a cup filled with water. As the towel soaks up the water the colors will rise and combine.
“It exposes them to STEM and gives them opportunities, and access to materials, they might not otherwise have in their home,” she said.
The kit also comes with a series of questions to expand the child’s understanding.
“It teaches kids how they can find their own creativity but also brings up questions,” she said.
Questions including: What happened? What colors were made within the rainbow? What does the water look like with the color mixture? If you did it again how could you make new colors? What was successful, what wasn’t? If you could do the project again in the future, what would you change?
Those questions, Pfannenstein said, help children learn how to problem solve and create in different ways.
As the Yes Network expands its reach, Peters said it’s coordinating with professors at CSB and St. John’s University. The end goal, she said, is for CSB/SJU students to train the Yes Network’s high school workers, who work making connections within their own neighborhoods throughout the community. If college students can train those high school workers, then the high school workers can distribute even more kits throughout their own areas, giving access to more and more kids.
The distribution boxes for the kits are being painted by local artists including Adam Spaeth, Jill Dubbeldee Kuhn, Shane Mahon and Laura Ruprecht.
Spaeth is working to make the artistry on his box a community endeavor, allowing kids to help with the design. His distribution box will be designed with blue sky, sunflowers and fish and initially reside at the COP House.
Funding for the project is provided by the Central Minnesota Arts Board and the Minnesota States Art Board as well as the Central Minnesota Community Foundation.
As the project moves forward, Peters said she’s looking for local businesses willing to step forward and sponsor one of the distribution boxes for a month. A sponsorship runs $400 a month and during the sponsorship month the Yes Network will place the company’s logo on the box, letting students and their families know who sponsored them.
“Families are doing the best they can right now,” Peters said. “If kids can walk to the corner and pick up a kit and be engaged in something, they’re able to have these experiences and have all the resources they need.”