boys and girls stem

Phillip Bryant, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Georgia, cuts the ribbon at the new STEM Lab with the help of Forsyth-Monroe County Boys & Girls Club members. The STEM Lab is made possible by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Macon. (Photos/Diane Glidewell)

Forsyth Monroe County Boys & Girls Club unveiled its new state-of-the-art STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) Lab on Friday, Dec. 6. The Lab is a collaboration of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and the new Amazon Fulfillment Center in Macon. It is the 56th STEM Lab in the U.S. created by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which is based in Baltimore, Md. The Amazon Future Engineer program gave $30,000 to equip the Lab at the local Boys & Girls Club.

“This is an exciting day,” said Phillip Bryant, CEO Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Georgia, which oversees the Monroe County Club. “Thank you guys so much for supporting Boys & Girls Clubs and the development of the young people. This is the best STEM Lab in Central Georgia.”

Bryant said he is very happy that the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and the Amazon Fulfillment Center picked this location of all the places they could have chosen. The STEM Center includes eight different areas that will engage students and allow them to solve problems and create solutions. There is a 3-D printer, a robotics center, circuits to connect and much more.

A team from the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation came from Baltimore and spent the day training teachers on the STEM Lab equipment and introducing some of the Boys & Girls Club members to it. The Foundation built the curriculum and provides continuing resources to use with it. The team remained on hand for the unveiling of the STEM Lab on Friday afternoon, joined by representatives of Amazon, Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Georgia, Monroe County Schools and the City of Forsyth.

“Thirty-five years ago someone invested in me,” said Randy Acosta, Vice President of resource development at Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. “We’re going to give these kids hope and opportunity. This really makes us proud.”

“Science, technology and innovation fuel Amazon,” said Corey Landry, general manager of the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Macon. “We picked this location on behalf of our employees. We hope it provides you youngsters everything you need to see the fruits of your efforts.”

The one million-square-foot Amazon Fulfillment Center opened on Skipper Road in July and employs over 900 full-time workers, even when it is not the Christmas season. Amazon Future Engineer is a comprehensive childhood-to-career program that increases access to computer science education for underserved communities. The Ripken Foundation has provided many sports-related opportunities for young people to promote leadership, work ethic, personal responsibility and healthy living since its founding in 2001. In 2016 it launched the STEM Initiative building STEM Labs, which has reached over 23,000 children nationwide.

Acosta said it was important to choose an area with dedicated space, which the Forsyth Monroe County Boys & Girls Club has. He said the programs are designed so that anyone with knowledge of STEM can do them. The point is to get the right tools to the teachers and students and introduce them to the resources available.

“We really enjoy partnering with the community,” said Acosta. “Critical thinking and problem solving will carry you through life. It’s all about whether they have access.”

He said he enjoyed seeing boys and girls run to the stations and to Samantha Nagurny, Ripken Foundation program and curriculum manager, when they were allowed to come into the STEM Lab. Nagurny is part of the team that trained teachers and introduced students to the new Lab. 

“It’s exciting for us,” said Nagurny. “Kids are so fun.”

Joel Tolliver, site director of the Forsyth Monroe County Boys & Girls Club, said his staff picked 10 children of different ages to come to the Lab on Friday and be part of the Grand Opening. He said all club members will now begin to rotate to have one day each week in the STEM Lab. The Club will have a booth to highlight the STEM Lab at Monroe County Schools STEM Night on Jan. 30. He said the Club has members from ages 6 to 16. The STEM Lab adapts to skill levels and is neither too hard nor too easy for anyone. 

On one table were small oranges hooked to a computer with a keyboard program. By touching different oranges one could play notes and create a melody.

Forsyth Mayor Eric Wilson talked about how cooperation between the city, county and school district in 2017 was what enabled them to bring a Boys & Girls Club to Forsyth-Monroe County. Bryant said that McDonough is working on the same model to bring the next Central Georgia Boys & Girls Club to its community. 

“You were leaders in forming partnerships and now others are emulating you,” said Bryant.

Monroe County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mike Hickman noted that the cooperation in bringing the Boys & Girls Club to Monroe County had sparked continuing cooperation between local government and groups for the benefit of citizens. He thanked Bryant for the work and vision of bringing the STEM Lab to Monroe County children.

“Just look around the room,” said Hickman. “It’s obvious what the STEM Lab does for our children. They’re engaged. They’ll be on our school robotics teams.”