Linking STEAM to Changemaking: a powerful combination for girls

Our Sisters School, a middle school for girls in New Bedford, Massachusetts, gives students opportunities to explore their passions while contributing to promote change in their communities. This story follows the changemaker journey of Anyis, as she explores her passion for engineering and opens spaces for classmates - other girls at New Bedford - to engage with science and technology in new and meaningful ways.

A Space to Make Mistakes and Learn Together

Growing up, Anyis wanted to build things, to be a construction worker. However, she didn’t see many women following this path and often felt shot down when she tried to explore. Talking to other classmates about their dreams, Anyis realized many felt the way she did.  She decided she wanted to do something about it. But how?

Starting 6th grade at Our Sisters School gave Anyis the opportunity and environment she needed to try out new skills. Her teachers, especially Ms. Eugenio, encouraged her to get involved in robotics. This was the first time Anyis worked on a real team. “I realized you can’t really do things by yourself,” she reflected. “It’s really important to have a team with different people and different backgrounds.” She liked it so much that she joined every year and started sharing her passion and knowledge with younger students.

The following year, Anyis had a task to complete with her girls-only robotics group: building a tool for students in their classroom. To tackle this challenge, she and her teammates started to think about students’ struggles. Two team members had siblings living with autism and shared the challenges they faced in the classroom. They researched possible ways to support students with autism, such as a robot equipped with headphones with music to create a calm, quiet, secure environment.

Anyis’ experience at Our Sisters School helped her practice working with others, building solutions together and ultimately knowing how to fail and try again. “Making mistakes is a huge part of our program,” explains Tobey Eugenio, an educator at Our Sisters School. “We like to make mistakes often, fast prototype, and build that resiliency and that mindset of 'I can do this'. It is about building that capacity to understand that you have the right to take this world on and be a part of making a difference.”

Supporting others to find their spark

Anyis and her teacher with other students

As an 8th grader, Anyis hosted a STEAM event at her community to give other girls the chance to engage with science, technology and robotics. When she learned that one of her younger classmates, Sam, wanted to bring art and design to girls in their community, Anyis saw an opportunity to join forces, support her peer, and build something together. They planned an evening of STEAM projects, taking advantage of the “AHA nights,” a monthly New Bedford community gathering. Throughout the evening children and their families got together to learn about robots and STEAM problem-solving methodologies. Kids could interact with color changing robots, build their own robots, play around with Legos and take home their creations. Anyis recalls teaching two young girls how to change the colors on a robot. “It was just amazing to see their faces light up and be like ‘I can do something like this!’ I was elated that someone else was as passionate as I was.”

A Mindset for Change 

Now a first-year student at her new high school, Anyis carries with her a sense that she can — and that others can, too. “The skills I’ve learned have helped me prepare for future obstacles.” Those skills include empathy, teamwork, supporting others to lead, and problem solving, and they are what Our Sisters School is all about. As Tobey Eugenio explains, “anything we do here at Our Sister School is really built around the agency of young people and for them to see their ability to have social impact and identify what that looks like.”

With support from her teacher and peers, Anyis found her sense of agency and inner power to envision and build a better future. “Changemaking to me is about finding something that you're passionate about and then using that to uplift your community, while working with others,” Anyis shares. This power, this confidence, will help her thrive in the face of obstacles that may come her way.


This story is part of the Time for Change series. 

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