By Haddon Libby

With the school season coming to a close, many parents are looking for interesting and rewarding programs to keep their young ones busy this weekend. Smart Education may be just that.

What is Smart Education? I’ve asked co-founder, Maria Wren, to tell us about it:

“Eight years ago, two moms saw a need. Being women of action, we decided to fill that need – real technology education for our children. That moment led to the founding of Science Math and Robotic Technology Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing STEAM (STEM + Arts) programs to the Coachella Valley.

Though the idea of STEM had been talked about since the 1980’s, in 2009 it had not quite caught on in the Coachella Valley; only a few schools had any kind of robotics program and those programs only served a small percentage of the students.

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SMaRT Education’s mission became clear: to give our youth the life skills that would open doors and lead to opportunities as competitive industry professionals.

SMaRT began with a simple focus, to teach students how to build and program robots and use that as the tool to build in the skills needed to be successful in life. As the capacity of the organization grew, the focus expanded beyond just robotics.

Classes and camps at our SciTech Academy in Palm Springs offer a range of programs for youth including: Engineering Fundamentals in our Rube Goldberg Camps; Environmental Stewardship in our Marine Science Camps and; Digital Media and Stop Motion Animation through our Video Game Design camps.

One of our signature programs, the SMaRT Mornings and SMaRT Wednesday’s programs at Katherine Finchy Elementary School allow students to explore the fundamentals of STEAM in more depth. During the school season, students at Katherine Finchy Elementary have the option to join us before school every day that school is in session, as well as every Wednesday after school to get their hands dirty with science experiments, build cool contraptions using the engineering design process and use technology to expand their creativity.

An important component to how we inspire students and expand their awareness of what a career in STEAM can be, are the trips to places that will show them what is possible within the various fields of STEAM. We’ve taken students on tours of NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in the middle of the Mojave Desert, part of the Deep Space Network, which communicates with spacecraft both in orbit around the Earth and in the farther reaches of our solar system. This summer we will take a group of students to the Marine Science Institute which works with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) on research in the Channel Islands Sanctuary.

In addition to our classes in Palm Springs, we are able to reach students from a broader region through our partnerships with organizations like the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition, the La Quinta Museum, the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian tribe as well as the three school districts. Our partnerships help us to bring our programs to students from Desert Hot Springs to the Salton Sea.

What makes SMaRT Education able to reach students in a way that engages, excites and inspires them is not just what we do, but how we do it. From the beginning, our goal has not been to feed students facts and figures to memorize, but rather to answer their questions with questions that will help them find answers for themselves. Allowing students to find their own answers gives them a better understanding of what they are doing.

What better way to teach principles of physics than to have students build their own catapults and test how weight, leverage, and trajectory will affect where their projectile will land?

SMaRT gives our youth the confidence to excel in all areas of their lives and personal development.”SMaRT is a local non-profit organization. Maria Wren can be reached at 760.848.4822 or via their website – DesertRobotics.com.