Dariel Araujo and Reynaldo Larios created a miniature biosphere to understand wildfire prevention, at a STEM event at PS 65 - Mother Hale in Mott Haven on March 28. By Christine Zeiger.

Daylong event at Mother Hale highlights some 60 experiments, workshops, and artwork by students from South Bronx schools. 

Last summer’s hazardous wildfire smoke from Canada gave two Bronx sixth graders an idea. Why not build a miniature biosphere to better understand how important moisture is to the natural world, and make it a science project?

On Thursday, budding environmentalists Reynaldo Larios and Dariel Araujo, from MS 298 in Longwood, unveiled their experiment at the annual STEAM Expo at PS 65 – Mother Hale Academy in Mott Haven.

Their biosphere was one of about 60 projects presented at the day-long competition, which showcased works from K-12 students from across Bronx Community School District 7. All the exhibits and displays incorporated science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

K-12 students from the Mott Haven schools review posters detailing projects on display at the STEAM Expo at PS 65.

The two sixth-graders said they were excited to see plants sprouting in the enclosed ecosystem they created from repurposed takeout containers.

“It was really interesting to see the process of the biosphere, and how the plants survived,” said Larios, 11.

Six top projects from the fair will be selected to go on to a borough-wide expo on May 11. On Thursday, April 4, District 7 leaders will announce the six winners, who will face off against other high-achieving students from across the Bronx.

It’ll be tough competition – but District 7 students are ready, said Susan Agosto, a K-5 STEM teacher at PS 18.

“I’m really excited with all those ‘aha’ moments,” she said. “Some of the things [the students] are learning are not just from me, but also from each other. I’m learning from them too.”

Agosto, in her first year as a STEM teacher, has utilized code.org to teach students coding, and Pixton.com, to create comics and avatars, and more hands-on tools, like Legos.

She tries to be as resourceful as possible when it comes to paying for learning tools, though she’s optimistic that budget cuts to the Department of Education next fiscal year won’t impede on STEM education.

The District 7 projects on display Thursday revealed the student’s ingenuity and creativity. Children from PS 18 designed a pinball machine using popsicle sticks and tennis balls, while a group from PS 369 mapped out “Mott Haven Funland,” an amusement park that “gives kids a screen-free place to hang out with friends after school,” rollercoaster included.

They were also topical. Another Mott Haven school, MS 223, used sugar and yeast to illustrate how different foods cattle eat cause increased methane emissions – a known contributor to climate change – while a poster laid out the risks of fentanyl addiction in teens.

Deborah Sanabria, student services manager for District 7, said it’s working with teachers and administrators to prioritize spending on learning whenever possible.

“This is where the energy should be spent, is on the curriculum,” said Sanabria.

A display by students from PS 18 shows a pinball machine they designed using popsicle sticks and tennis balls. By Christine Zeiger.

Norma Gonzalez, a parent and Community Education Council (CEC) member for District 7, attended the STEAM expo to cheer on her son, a second grader at PS 1, who developed an exhibit on earthquakes. She said events like the expo are important because they get students thinking about the future.

“We want to give our kids more opportunities that show there’s another life besides just your community in the Bronx,” said Gonzalez. “There’s so much outside that you go explore and visit. This might be something that you even look up later as a career.”

District 7 plans to continue preparing students for the future by helping them develop other essential real-world skills. A financial literacy expo will be held on April 19.

“We’re trying to change the narrative of public schools and change the narrative of District 7, because we have a lot to offer,” said Sanabria. “There’s a lot that’s happening.”

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