6 Questions with the Children’s Museum of Cleveland’s Kelsey Tarase

CMC’s Director of Education shares the curriculum details of the WASF/CMSD/CMC partnership, and why STEM education—especially at the pre-K level—is so important.


Thanks to the generous support of Warren A. Sill Fund (WASF) donors, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and the Children’s Museum of Cleveland (CMC)—two Cleveland classrooms (Euclid Park Elementary and William Cullen Bryant) are each receiving five, hands-on STEM-based courses taught by CMC educators throughout the 2017-2018 school year.

Through this one-of-its-kind partnership, 4-year-olds in underserved areas of the city’s east side are enjoying hands-on learning experiences, inspiring them to dream bigger and sparking their interest in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Here, Kelsey Tarese, the museum’s Director of Education, explains how the program works and the reasons why introducing STEM courses in early childhood can have a profound effect on development.


1. What kind of work do you do at the Children’s Museum of Cleveland?

As many who work in non-profit know, my current role entails a bit of everything including: interacting with museum guest on the floor, running the IT for our front-desk sales system, training staff on developmentally appropriate practice (DAP), and designing and leading most outreach. I work with CMSD and WASF to coordinate the logistics of each outreach pogrom but also design and lead the programs in a way that meets DAP and also works with each individual teacher’s classroom curriculum.


2. Why is STEM-education not only important for any grade level, but especially during pre-K instruction? 

The National Science Foundation suggests that adults must be familiar with basic science concepts for employment today. Unfortunately, African-American, Latino/a, and low-income European-American students lag behind in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science tests in the fourth, eighth and twelfth grades. Multiple studies conclude that the key to combating this is to engage students in STEM fields as early as possible. In low income areas, the issue is further exacerbated by lack of funding for adequate STEM resources. Many teachers fall back on the rote-memory style of education to comply with state standardized test requirements, rather than allow children to engage in meaningful learning activities.

Consequently, the pedagogy of poverty is a key factor in the decline of STEM interest within low-income populations. Many studies have shown that a way to combat low test scores and apathy for STEM is to integrate hands-on activities into the curriculum as early as possible. 


3: What types of courses/workshops do you teach to pre-K students at Euclid Park and William Cullen Bryant Elementary? 

At Euclid Park and William Cullen Bryant Elementary, The Children’s Museum leads five different STEM based lessons with students. The topics for these lessons are chosen based on national and CMSD standards and curriculum guides, and what I as an educator at the museum knows will best interest and serve the students.

The lessons cover a variety of topics, but have a strong focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. For example, in our “Young Architects” outreach students are designing blueprints and building their own model homes; a lesson with a clear emphasis on math and engineering. In our “Race into Space” program students are learning about the Big Bang, space travel, and designing their own planets; these topics are heavily influenced by science and technology standards.

As an educator, I could list all the content standards the children are meeting in our five lessons, but if you ask the kids what they are doing it is, having fun. And I believe that is the most important thing we do in our lessons, have fun.


4: What do you find are the biggest student takeaways from these CMC visits? 

I believe the biggest take away for the students are numerous, but the two I am most proud of are:

1) The belief that learning can be fun. CMC strives to create programming that engages children with hands-on activities, creative art projects, and physical movement to incorporate full-body learning this is fully engaging and child led.

2) That each child gets to take home a project. Having this take-home component is vital because it not only gives children a tactile reminder of the lesson but also allows them to show their work to friends and family. For many students this may be one of the only times they are able to keep a project, which also helps boost their self-esteem for STEM.


5: As an educator, what do these enrichment opportunities at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District mean to you? 

As an educator I know the pressure teachers are under to stay within budget, teach lessons aligned to government approved standards, try to work with limited or no resources, and juggle the 100 other daily tasks they have while still doing what is best for each and every one of their students. Having Warren A. Sill Fund help pre-K students and teachers, at two wonderful Cleveland Metropolitan School District [schools], with The Children’s Museum of Cleveland enables educators to give their students a developmentally appropriate lesson that is common-core aligned, cost effective and fun for their students—helping these very deserving educators and their students receive the type of education and support they deserve.

I believe there is no better thing we can do as a society that spend more time, money and effort engaging with our youngest learners and helping them to succeed.


6: How do you see the future of STEM programming evolving and expanding at the younger end of the grade-school spectrum? 

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) states “learning science and engineering practices in the early years can foster children’s curiosity and enjoyment in exploring the world around them and lay the foundation for a progression of science learning in K–12 settings and throughout their entire lives.” I think the world is beginning to really turn toward the fact, that in order for us to succeed in middle school, high school and beyond, we need to focus on our learning from the very beginning.

Cleveland itself in the past few years has been laying the groundwork and starting a Northeast Ohio STEM Ecosystem; The NeoSTEM Ecosystem has been very inclusive with early learning educators, knowing that our youngest learners are our future learners and leaders, and that for a STEM education to be effective we need to start early. I think there are people across the Nation, in the NeoSTEM Ecosystem, at Warren A. Sill Fund, at CMC and CMSD that clearly recognize the young children are a critical population and need to be engaged in STEM concepts.

Clear progress is being made but there is still an uphill battle to be fought. However, I do believe we will get there, it is too important to fail.