Blinking lights and pink umbrellas will be on display Thursday night at the Goldtown Nickelodeon as students in the Juneau School District’s CARES program show off their work.
CARES allows students who have fallen behind on graduation credits to take alternative classes after school.
It often partners with the Juneau Economic Development Council’s STEM education program, short for Science Technology Engineering and Math.
It’s 5 o’ clock on a weekday afternoon, and about a dozen students are spread out at workstations in a large classroom at the Marie Drake building. Some are soldering wires together. Others are using hot glue guns to attach LED lights to their projects. A few more sit at laptop computers writing code that will make the lights blink on and off.
Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School sophomore Lexi Nelson works with a bright pink umbrella adorned with various shades of electro luminescent wire.
“I’m zip tie-ing my battery pack on the inside of my umbrella, so when I twirl it and stuff it doesn’t fall out,” Nelson says.
Her partner, Alexa Adelmeyer, sews the brightly colored EL wire to her umbrella. They plan to use them in a dance routine as part of the final project presentation.
A junior at Juneau Douglas High School, Adelmeyer admits she used to struggle in class.
“I just wasn’t motivated,” she says. “But this year has been a lot better. I have a 4.0 [GPA].”
Adelmeyer says the CARES program has improved her study habits. The classes are also more hands on and project oriented than regular school.
“Not all in the book and a bunch of homework and a teacher just blabbing at you,” Adelmeyer says.
Students can only get into CARES when they fall behind on their regular coursework. The program acronym stands for Credit Achievement Recovery & Employability Skills. Josh Deutsch is a Student Advocate with the Juneau School District. He’s part instructor, part CARES program recruiter.
“These are students that for one reason or another haven’t succeeded completely in their regular school classes,” Deutsch says. “So we like to give a little extra engagement, a little extra support if they need it in getting re-engaged. That’s our key goal is getting these kids re-engaged in regular school.”
Deutsch says the Juneau Economic Development Council’s STEM education programs are a near perfect fit for CARES’ mission. The students in this class are trying to recover physical science credits needed to graduate. But rather than focus solely on science, Deutsch says they tweaked it slightly.
“We added an ‘A’ in it like some people do. So, it’s STEAM education and that just adds Arts in there,” he says.
Thunder Mountain High School Arts Teacher Heather Ridgway is assisting with the CARES class. She says it’s important for the students to learn about electricity and other physics concepts. But it’s equally important for them to produce something that shows what they learned.
“They get an idea, and then they have to figure out how to make it work,” Ridgway says. “They get to apply what they learn about circuitry to a direct ambition and come out with an end product that they’re proud of.”
Luis Lamas is a junior at JDHS, who’s about a semester behind in science credits for graduation. He says he learned about ohms and resistance and other electrical concepts in previous physics classes. But they didn’t stick until he had to learn them for the CARES project.
“Some of the things I’ve learned in this class, I’ve kind of flashed back that I could have learned in my other physical science class,” says Lamas. “Having to be here the whole time from 4-7:30 p.m. just kind of made me want to pay attention so I wouldn’t have retake any more classes.”
Lamas and his partner are making a backdrop for the final project presentations. It’s a model of a circuit board mounted on a giant piece of cardboard, with LED lights and EL wire that will light up throughout the show.
“It kind of represents what we were doing in this class by using electricity and art to show other people what we do,” he says.
The CARES class project presentations are open to the public Thursday from 5 to 6:15 at the Goldtown Nickelodeon.