District 20 students bring STEAM-powered dreams to life

Jesse Aja-Sigmon stood in the gymnasium of Shallow Intermediate School proudly displaying his creation. “When you push the needle, it runs with water pressure,” he told this newspaper as he explained the inner workings of the hydraulic-powered claw he had constructed.

Jesse, who attends P.S. 127, was one of scores of students taking part in District 20’s Third Annual STEAM Expo at Shallow I.S. in Bensonhurst on March 28.

STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math and the projects in the expo reflected the knowledge and creativity of the students, according to District 20 officials.

Jesse got the idea for his project when his parents took him to Universal Studios, the movie-theme park in Florida, on a family vacation. He was dazzled by the dragons and other creatures and wondered how they worked. When he got home, he did some research and found his answer. “They run with hydraulics,” he said.

Every one of the 39 schools in District 20 was represented at the expo, according to Dr. Joseph O’Brien, the deputy superintendent. The expo was open to students from kindergarten to eighth grade. Shallow I.S. was asked to host the expo this year.

“This is our third year. The first two years were great. But this year, it has been full blown,” O’Brien told this newspaper.

The expo is not a typical science fair. “It’s not competitive. There is no judging,” O’Brien said. Instead of prizes, all of the participants were presented with plaques.

STEAM is an important way to train kids to have a future in a world where technology is king, O’Brien said. Students get the chance to come up with a concept, build a project and then present it to the public.

STEAM also offers an opportunity for teachers to have a “very different teaching style,” O’Brien said.

Kerri Durante, a science teacher at P.S. 971 and a STEAM coach for District 20, said she was impressed by the hard work and deep thought the youngsters put into their projects. “When you give kids a chance, they really show you what they can do,” she told this newspaper.

Students from P.S. 971 investigated how New York City gets its drinking water. Their project, “From Mountain Top to Tap,” featured a replica of a mountain.

Jerry Lumianski, Leo Titievsky and Connor McGeary from I.S. 686 presented their idea on how a bicycle can charge a cell phone. By pedaling a bike, a person can generate enough electricity to charge a cell phone, the boys said. They displayed miniature bikes to demonstrate their project. “It’s a work in progress,” Connor said.

Three girls from P.S./I.S. 229, Lauren Spoto, Amelia Chen and Leigh Rose Papanikolaou, made “The Mechanical Hand,” a device that would come in handy for anyone looking to retrieve an item from the top shelf.

It was a process of trial and error, the girls said. They made and then rejected several samples of the Mechanical Hand before settling on the final version. They used their math and engineering skills to calculate the proper size for the device. “If it was too long, it would break,” Amelia said.

Children from P.S. 127 including Deanna Nadi, Lencla Krafcile, Jayden Chen, Preston Chen, Leanna Cheb and Ronald Padilla, explored wind energy and made carefully constructed windmills.

“The Power of Play” was the topic of P.S. 682’s project. With help from their teachers, third graders built a model of an energy-efficient playground.

The expo also brought out the generosity of students. A contingent representing Dyker Heights Intermediate School showed off the desk they built from scratch for fellow student Maria Pizzo, an eighth grader who is wheelchair-bound. The desk is wide enough to accommodate Maria’s wheelchair.

The students, who called themselves the ‘Wheelchair Warriors,” came to school an hour early every day to work on the desk. They consulted Maria throughout the entire process to make sure she was happy with the finished product. She was. “I think it’s beautiful,” she told this newspaper.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly spelled student Leo Titievsky’s name. We regret the error.

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