If you have go to Norm’s Coffee Bar after 3 p.m. on a weekday, then you will probably see their after-school program flourishing with STEAM. Nope, we don’t mean the steam that is coming off your latte, but Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math projects.
Between 100 and 120 middle schoolers are finding an afternoon haven at Norm’s; that’s twice as many as last year. And the cool things they are doing have largely been made possible through collaboration.
Lions Club is one such partner, recently donating money for a Chromebook. Club member Dan Heinze had noticed students using Norm’s nine Chromebooks for homework and fun. He spoke with Norm’s owner Tami Lakey and discovered the scope of the after-school program. He said after he presented this to the Newton Lions, they were eager to help.
Lakey said students sign into the Chromebook using their school accounts, so safeguards are already in place. Currently in USD373, fifth- and sixth-graders do not receive devices like the older grades. However, the new curriculum uses an online tool called Summit Learning Platform. With Norm’s Chromebooks, students can check their assignments and get caught up on homework.
“Internet is expensive and we know that many families in our district have higher priorities,” said Lakey. Many may have a cell phone, but to use Summit Learning (a new piece of middle school curriculum this year), kids really need an iPad, desktop or laptop. “A lot of our families don’t have them.”
Norm’s has received two grants last year, from the Schowalter Foundation and a private family foundation, which have helped to pay an intern and develop the STEAM projects. Some of these include five circuit boards, which come with a book of a hundred ideas, and Ozobots to introduce kids to programming.
These ideas came from another partnership, with the Newton Public Library. Lakey said they mirrored what the library was doing so that when they come once a month to Norm’s, they have double the capacity of circuit boards, for example.
Other collaborations include the YMCA and Newton Police Department. Last summer, the police did a drug free presentation. Lakey said they wanted to see “what they could do to combat drug use” as data says seventh and eighth grades are when students are most exposed to drug use. She appreciates the department’s support and resources, and looks forward to continuing that relationship.
This after-school program fits right in with Norm’s motto of Coffee, Community, Connection. Lakey said even though using the Chromebooks could be a solitary activity, she places them back to back on tables, where students often share what they’re working on. “There’s community, even in that!” Lakey rejoiced.
Lakey loves seeing 10 to 12-year-olds collaborating on ideas for how to use the Ozobots, working together with markers on paper to make the bots move.
When the YMCA comes, leaders choose teams, aiding with teamwork and helping students connect with others they may not know very well.
“We want to continue to paint a picture for students in this space and our community at large of what collaboration looks like,” said Lakey.
She wants to encourage partnership, and for people to not see themselves of their group as one unit. She used the business metaphor of a silos, a person or department that operates in isolation from others, without communicating or connecting with others. “We aren’t silos, but part of a whole,” said Lakey.
Just another way this is manifesting at Norm’s is a project called Cooper’s Closet. Through December, Norm’s is collecting donations of basic household items and toiletries that Cooper Early Education Center will distribute to their families as needed. “It’s a way for the community to love on those families,” said Lakey.