High School Junior Mentors Future STEM Leaders

Daily Point of Light # 7807 May 8, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Adeline Smith. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

In 2017, when Adeline Smith was in fourth grade, she had a realization: not everyone “gets” math, even the fundamentals. Idaho, Adeline’s home state, is among the states that funnel the least amount of funding into education, but that wasn’t what Adeline was focused on at the time.

“Because I had done math competitions early on, I was advanced. A lot of my peers struggled with math and science concepts that were grade level. I saw that issue, and then one-on-one, I began helping my friends learn concepts and do better on their tests,” she recalls.

It was clear that the longer her fellow students continued down the path they were on, the more they would struggle to catch up. And if they couldn’t perform in high school, it could limit their future job opportunities. So, Adeline and her co-founder came up with a solution: Growing the STEM.

Growing the STEM is a collection of nearly 40 math- and science-based afterschool programs implemented in elementary and middle schools of the Coeur d’Alene public school district. The first year, Adeline offered the Mathletes and Math is Cool programs. The former prepares students for district math competitions, and the latter engages older elementary students to tutor their younger counterparts in the subject.

“The kids really enjoy it,” says Charlene Babb, Adeline’s former Advanced Learning Program teacher and Growing the STEM education co-chair.

(Left to right) Board advisor Charlene Babb supervises as Growing the STEM co-founders Lilian Smith and Adeline Smith, in 6th grade at the time, as they coach a 4th-5th grade regional Math is Cool competition at Bryan Elementary.

Charlene works at Sorenson Magnet School of the Arts and Humanities, Growing the STEM’s initial site. She personally implements a Math is Cool program and has seen how promoting an interest in STEM subjects at a young age can affect the direction a kid takes down the line.

“It’s something that starts while they are in elementary school. That drives interest, and then it could peak and you become an engineer later in life,” she acknowledges. “I have several students that are currently in college engineering programs.”

As the organization grew, so did the number and types of programs. Adeline, in partnership with educators, created STEAM Club and STEM Book Club. The idea for STEAM Club came about the summer before she entered high school via an enjoyable, technically-taught art class. STEAM addresses artistic fields that overlap with STEM, for example graphic design uses coding and electronics to create visual renderings and measurements or architecture, a field that requires high-level math along with an intuition for aesthetics. The art club shows how science can be seen in art. STEM Book Club connects with STEM topics through literature.

“We’re going to have a program addressing concepts in the medical field coming up next year, as well as Architect Club. And multiple student coaches have added to the engineering curriculum,” Adeline said.

Each program is run by a supervising teacher and multiple high school student coaches who bring curriculum to life that prepares students for future in-classroom learning. Everyone in the room walks away with a better understanding of the concepts and how to explain it to others.

“You get a sense of confidence,” Adeline says, noting the difference between presenting to fellow high schoolers versus teaching a room full of third graders. “When you coach Growing the STEM programs—myself included—you get better at speaking at the front of a classroom.”

As the vice president of the board of directors, Adeline also helps with fundraisers like the annual trivia night, participates in strategic planning sessions and identifies future leaders who will ensure the programs continue after her graduation. During teaching training, she draws on her personal experience to offer ideas on energizing students and building good partnerships with coaches. And she helps train student coaches as well.

“She’s engaging. She’s kind. She’s approachable. She just really enjoys working with kids and sharing her talents,” Charlene adds.

Today, Growing the STEM serves over 900 students each year in 43 afterschool programs in 14 schools with over 100 youth leaders. It’s a success, she is quick to mention, that is due to a lot of people’s efforts.

“You have to start small and find something that works, and then you can grow from there,” she emphasizes. “It’s important to get a group of people that are, like you, passionate about the cause.”

After years of teaching at schools funded at different levels, Adeline has seen firsthand the discrepancy in math levels. To help close the gap, she strategizes on putting programs where they’re most needed.

“Growing the STEM specifically focuses on underrepresented groups in the fields, so a lot of our programs are at the schools that have the lowest funding,” she explains.

A group of students gather in the hallway to listen to Adeline’s (middle, facing camera) lesson about circles for the Math is Cool program at Skyway Elementary.

One part of tackling the issue is the lack of representation. Students who see someone they can relate to doing hard things are more likely to see it as a possibility for themselves.

“Representation in STEM really matters. A lot of the girls that go into our programs have a preconceived notion that they are worse than the boys in the various subjects,” Adeline says.

To combat this, shows off her math skills to impress upon girls in the program that they, too, can be good at her favorite subject. With a passion for teaching and bringing others along on an educational journey, she notes that it never feels like work. She encourages others to find a cause that motivates them and not to be shy about it.

“My biggest advice would be to talk to people. Find anyone you can that is passionate about the issue you like and ask for their guidance or help,” she adds.

Adeline has always enjoyed participating in STEM activities. These days, she also practices her skills on the debate team doing public forum-style debate, recently competing at state-level. She has been on the varsity tennis team and served on Student Council and the Student

Advisory Group for multiple years as well. She wants to study physics and philosophy with the goal of working in a STEM field, perhaps an engineer of some sort. She has, no doubt, inspired many others to do the same.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Adeline? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Kristin Park