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Students Present STEM Projects

Forward Future hosts summer program for 30 teens.

Members of the Forward Future STEM Showcase present their projects at the Herndon United Methodist Church, Thursday, Aug. 23.

Members of the Forward Future STEM Showcase present their projects at the Herndon United Methodist Church, Thursday, Aug. 23. Photo by Alex McVeigh.

— Thirty children from the Herndon and Reston areas presented a series of projects on Thursday, Aug. 23 at the Herndon United Methodist Church, a result of their summer with Forward Future, a local organization dedicated to youth mentoring.

The program was designed by the Pearl Project, which was founded by Robin McDougal to empower parents and help children reach their academic potential.

"I grew up poor in public housing in Brooklyn, but I was lucky enough to have a teacher that told me about college, and to plan for my future," said McDougal, who was the first person in her family to attend college. "Research shows that a lot of kids who grew up like me spend a lot of time in after school programs, but can also watch a lot of TV and play a lot of video games. We want them to engage their hands and minds for something worthwhile."

She said her program aims to give parents a direction for their children.

"We’re not here to do their work for them, but to give a little help," she said. "As a grassroots effort, that little bit of help can make a big difference for a child’s entire life."

VOLUNTEERS HELPED the teens get acquainted with the projects.

"They went pretty quickly from being frustrated to totally involved," said Edia Standfard-Bruce, a volunteer with Forward Future. "I think the whole process, making a model, testing it out, finding what went wrong and improving it, is getting them to think a different way."

"I think tackling these projects, then ultimately succeeding, was a big boost of self-esteem for these kids," said Jackie Phan, founder of Forward Future. "We’re here to mentor at-risk youth, and once we started going this year, we’ve been moving at full speed with entering programs like this."

One project involved the students building miniature bridges that had to be able to hold the weight of model cars. Another had them trying to make the tallest "building" they could out of only a single sheet of paper.

"We had to work with a lot of different shapes to see which one would actually stand up the tallest," said Nastajia Walker, 13.

"My favorite part was making the lunch boxes, because I got to design mine for exactly the kind of food I like," said Naomi Richardson, 14. "I like hot food, and nothing cold, so that’s what mine is meant to hold."

One student even built a lunch box with a breathing tube for her grandfather who is currently on a respirator.

THE SPEAKER during the showcase was Ereletheia Allen, a network engineer and native of Lanham, Md. She has over 20 years of information technology experience with the Department of Defense, the intelligence community and several private companies.

"In third grade, my teacher introduced us to long division, and I didn’t like it, and it didn’t like me. But I sat down every night and worked on my homework, so I got a lot of practice, and soon I realized we would get along OK," she said. "I’m very proud seeing the accomplishments of everyone here, and I think there’s a lot of potential in this room."

Transportation to the program, as well as for many family members during the final showcase, was provided by Wheelz4Kidz, a local business that transports children and teens over the age of 7.

More information can be found at www.facebook.com/forwardfuture.