Monday, October 14, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 32

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 1st, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 17, Issue 52 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 17, Issue 52

Hobnobbing with Helen


STEM is in the air.

The acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics seems to pop up everywhere. Frequent use of the term STEM, relatively new to our vocabulary, is intended to make what it stands for less intimidating to students. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics can be fun.

STEM’s fun aspects were brought to light on Friday, Feb. 24, at the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

In conjunction with the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks, the Family Partnership Charter School (FPC) hosted a Youth Science Fair, showcasing science projects carried out by its students.

Allan Hancock College engineering students Bianca Aleman (left) and Rebecca Rodriguez (center, back) demonstrated centrifugal force to Mena Franck (center) and her sister Alice (right) at the Family Partnership Charter School’s science fair event held Feb. 24 at the Abel Maldonado Youth Center.

The FCP curriculum places a high priority on scientific inquiry and embraces the notion that we are never too young to learn about hypotheses and conclusions. Many of the school’s 400 students from its locations in Santa Maria, Morro Bay, and Solvang presented exhibits detailing the results of their experiments.

Barbara Wiley from the Maldonado Center staff and Teresa Reyburn from Recreation and Parks were on hand to see how things were going. Mechanical engineering student Rebecca Rodriguez and biomedical engineering student Bianca Aleman were part of an Allan Hancock College Science and Engineering Club team that delighted in showing children how centrifugal force works.

I arrived at 10:30 a.m. and found the gym crowded with students, parents, and passersby.

Who could not resist stopping to find out which of two popcorn brands pops better, or how bridges are constructed, or why mice are considered nocturnal (good to know).

The exhibits consisted of three-part folding cardboard panels with written explanations of what was happening in each particular experiment, including illustrations. The tools necessary for the experiment were set in front of the cardboard panels (e.g., mouse maze, bridge model).

The format of the exhibits showed what the teachers intended. There was a question or problem to be solved, a discussion of how the problem was approached, and the conclusion. Sometimes the conclusion was definitive and indisputable. Sometimes the junior scientists acknowledged that more data was needed and that the conclusion was up in the air.

What is awesome about these experiments and exhibits is that they teach children, at relatively young ages, critical thinking and analytical skills. This isn’t Jack and Jill go up the hill stuff.

Jules Manfreda (left) is the principal of Family Partnership Charter School, and Miguel Gonzalez (right) is the executive director for the school. Both were in attendance at the science fair event in Santa Maria.

What is equally awesome is that the kids get it. Teacher Robin Palmerston told me, “The kids bounce around with excitement and tell me to ‘come see my project.’”

Miguel Gonzalez is the executive director of FCP. At USC, this native Santa Marian earned a doctorate in education leadership. The USC experience, Gonzalez said, “opened my eyes” to the possibilities for new approaches to education, which he is able implement at FCP.

As part of his doctoral program, Gonzalez went to Costa Rica to study their education system. He was quite taken with the emphasis that the Costa Ricans put on science and on the science fairs that the schools hosted for the students.

The potential for engaging the interest and excitement of students at science fairs stuck with him. These events, he felt, encouraged kids to become innovative at an early age.

“We are in a knowledge-based economy,” he said. “STEM is important.”

If you want to hobnob with Helen, you may contact her at

Weekly Poll
Should Santa Maria implement rent control for residents living in mobile home parks?

Yes. Residents in mobile home parks need some sort of protection.
No. The city shouldn't interfere with lease negotiations.
All housing within the city should under rent control.
Rent control hasn't worked in other cities.

| Poll Results