At a rural elementary school in the western Tennessee town of Brighton, teacher Kathryn Vaughn spends her days teaching visual art. When the school day ends, however, she takes on a different set of responsibilities, using Project WET and LEGO Robotics to engage students with activities that focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and the outdoors during an after-school program.
“We are a Title I school with 800 students, a significant number of whom live in economically disadvantaged homes,” Mrs. Vaughn explains. “Five years ago, the school district received a grant for a federally funded after-school program for a segment of our population. Our program consists of sixty third, fourth, and fifth graders. We feed them a free third meal, do homework and then break out into STEM-themed groups.”
With natural amenities that include a creek, corn field and pumpkin patch, the large, picturesque property on which the school is located offers plenty of places to explore using Project WET activities.
“My students love Project WET and any activity that allows us to go outside and utilize the full grounds of the school,” says Mrs. Vaughn. “They enjoy getting into our creek and catching macroinvertebrates and looking at them under our microscope. They also love learning about water conservation and teaching other students about water usage and shortages around the world.”
A teacher in Tennessee since 2006, Mrs. Vaughn has been using Project WET with the after-school program since 2016. She says that Project WET helps her engage her students “in so many ways.”
“Most of them do not spend any (other) time outside, so teaching them outside has been so rewarding,” she enthuses. “I can see them enjoying nature and learning through hands-on activities. I also get to share my love of the outdoors.”
Mrs. Vaughn adds that she loves to be outdoors and around any type of water, even when she’s not teaching: “My husband and I are avid travelers and usually plan trips around art museums and outdoor activities. One of my goals is to visit all the major art museums in the world. I want to continue to learn about art and bring back things from my adventures to share with my students.”