ALBANY —Four Capital District schools are participating in a STEAM-related program and competition called Kids Can Build, created by the Shalom Food Pantry this month.
Located on 393 Delaware Ave. in Delmar, the Shalom Food Pantry is a volunteer-based organization which offers healthy food packages to people and families in need, especially the local Jewish community.
Kids Can Build complements participating students’ STEAM curriculum where their subjects like science, technology, the arts and mathematics intersect.
Students receive around 1,000 donated cans and are tasked to build 5-by-5-by-5 structures with them that are based on a visual theme that they get to choose.
The four participating schools are Woodland Hill Montessori School in Rensselaer, Robert C. Parker School in Wynantskill, Maimonides Hebrew Day School in Albany and Bet Shraga Hebrew Academy of the Capital District in Albany.
Once students finish prototyping and building their structures in their respective schools, they will head to Crossgates Mall on Monday, Nov. 18 at noon to build them again for an hour. Then at 4 p.m., a one-hour long awards ceremony will occur which will recognize each school’s structure and their hard work.
After the structures are publicly displayed with descriptions, half of the cans will be donated to the Shalom Food Pantry while the other half will be distributed among the four schools that then decide which other food pantry they would like to donate their share of cans to.
Chanie Simon, the program coordinator at Shalom Food Pantry, said Kids Can Build is sponsored by Sunmark Charitable Community Foundation and also seeks to address food insecurity in the Capital District.
“After this program is finished this month, we’ll have about 4,000 cans to be donated off and service those in need,” she said. “It brings awareness to the entire community and also the youth that there are people in the community who are struggling to put food on the table.”
As an example of what one of the four schools is doing, during a visit to the Woodland Hill Montessori School on Oct. 31, Megan Stasi, a seventh and eighth grade arts teacher, said 28 students are involved in Kids Can Build.
Originally starting in September, she said they began brainstorming ideas for what their structure could be like, discussing possible patterns to choose, working to cut cardboard and collect cans, and even visit other classes in the school to speak on the importance of giving back to the community.
Adding that this ideation process allowed different students to showcase their artistic, math- and science-related skills, Stasi said, “They discussed what they want to build with the cans and made grids where they drew out patterns and colors that the structure could look, and even considered whether they could spell out something with the cans.”
She also said they had to keep in mind the structure’s measurements, the potential to do an optical illusion, and finding ways to design and actually build it.
“We chose this because we thought it embodied our chosen theme which was ‘Thinking outside the box’ and when you think outside the box, you can’t look at something from one perspective, you have to look at it from where someone else stands,” said Nora, another seventh-grade student. “An eighth-grader was the one who came up with this idea and it kind of stuck.”
So far, Colin, a fellow seventh-grader, said they have used at least 370 cans and need around 1,180 cans eventually. Maggie, another seventh-grader, said they had held a schoolwide can drive prior for the project.
The 28 students have since begun erecting their structure — with carefully placed colorful cans on top of pizza box cutouts — within a 5-by-5 square area in a classroom.
Nora brought up that she and her classmates got involved in Kids Can Build “because first, it’s a really fun project and it also gives back to the community and helps other people and we’re lucky enough to have a lot of stuff. So if we can give back in any way, that’s great.” Maggie chimed in to say their school has done fundraising and worked with other organizations, nonprofits and corporations before. Kids Can Build, she added, also complemented how her school is huge on giving students hands-on learning experience.
Simon concluded that she had been met with excitement from the four participating schools, their teachers and students when she approached them about Kids Can Build earlier this year. She also brought up that this is the first year that Kids Can Build is happening and she is looking to make it an annual event with partnering schools next.
“There’s been a big push in the schools in taking their curriculum and incorporating STEAM in it to bring it more into their lives,” Simon said. “This ties in nicely with that and it’s been great.”
For more information, visit the pantry’s website at www.shalomfoodpantry.org.