Learning does not stop when the school year ends, especially for kids enrolled in the United Way of Porter County's school readiness program. Designed to prepare 4-to-5-year-olds for kindergarten and to kick-start a love for learning, the kids tackle a variety of learning activities like Wednesday’s Ozobot experience provided by the Porter County Extension Office, 4-H Teen Teachers program.
“Porter County 4-H also received generous funding this past year provided by Arcelor Mittal, which has helped grow a love of STEM both for our area youth and 4-H members,” said Brooke Sauter, the Special Programs Coordinator at Purdue Extension Porter County Office.
Ozobots are pocket-size robots coded by colors. The kids simply draw patterns on paper, and the little bots will follow accordingly. Sponsored by ArcelorMittal, the Ozobots program gets kids engaged with science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) without sacrificing fun and creating a team building experience.
The experience was held at Valparaiso’s Thomas Jefferson Elementary School as part of the United Way’s Kinder Camp program. United Way and ArcelorMittal staff both were on hand to see the event. Valparaiso Community Schools is one of four Porter County school districts hosting a Kinder Camp program this year.
“If you can’t invest in these kids when they’re 4 or 5 years-old, then they’re not going to stay on track,” said Kim Olesker, President and CEO of United Way of Porter County. “They’re not going to read at their grade level, they’re not going to graduate. You’re not setting them up for success. So for us, this is all about helping them succeed early and and it starts at preschool.”
The Kinder Camp program and the Ozobot experience are about far more than simple academic learning, it’s an experience designed to help kids socialize and familiarize themselves with a classroom environment in a fun and collaborative way. Indiana is one of 16 states that does not require school attendance until age 7, so camps like this help kids engage with schooling before tackling the real deal.
“Think about these little people and what it takes just to line up and walk down a hall and not touch each other,” Olesker said. “They always have their hands all over the place with lots of wiggles happening, so to learn to follow directions and get them into the behavioral space where they can sit in a classroom come August is huge.”
Those behavioral traits that let a kid engage with a class are called “soft skills” and are at the core of what ArcelorMittal and United Way looked to develop with this program. The kids grouped together and helped each other draw and design patterns for the Ozobots to follow. Veteran teacher Mindy Heuring with Valparaiso Community Schools helped supervise the class.
“It’s just incredible to see the kids learning and picking up these soft skills,” Heuring said. “It makes my heart full. It’s so unique and United Way has provided us with everything we need.”
For ArcelorMittal, a company long involved with philanthropy around the Region, sponsoring STEAM programs and working with the United Way of Porter County is a perfect fit for this major manufacturer.
“ArcelorMittal is pleased to support the Porter County School Readiness Program and Kinder Camp offered through United Way,” said Jolice Pojeta, Corporate Responsibility and Communications Manager, ArcelorMittal. “This early childhood development initiative offers a year-round learning STEAM experience that is beneficial for area youth. Such a program proves it’s never too early for young students to begin developing critical social and learning skills that will help shape their future education and careers.”