A Little Bit of STEM with the Little Bit Foundation

    By Suzanne Vanderhoef

    For far too many local kids, school supplies aren’t just notebooks and pencils. For them, a warm coat, a pair of socks, or even a toothbrush might be the difference that allows them to go to school ready to learn.

    That’s where The Little Bit Foundation comes in.

    Founded in 2001, the Little Bit Foundation now serves more than 11-thousand students in 38 area schools every week. In every school that they serve, there’s a Little Bit space they call “The Boutique”. And in that Boutique, there’s emergency items – coats, underwear, socks, hygiene items – anything that may come up as an emergency so that child can stay in school that day.

    “I met a little boy who wore his dad’s leather coat with a broken zipper and when I gave him a coat that fit, he said, ‘my mom and my dad are going to be so happy I’m warm,’” remembers Rosemary Hanley, Executive Director and Co-Founder of The Little Bit Foundation. “Something changed in me that day and I realized that children that live in our city didn’t have their basic needs met so that they can stay in school, be in school, and really focus on their education. So that’s really when the mission was born.”

    And now, Little Bit is using its connections and expertise in another way: helping bring STEM learning to the classroom through a partnership program with Washington University and Maryville called MySciDo.

    The day we visited Gibson Elementary, the students in Ms. Usher’s class were working on a project to create robotic creatures out of Legos and then write code to get the robots to perform a task, like pulling another object.

    “It comes with a hub that is bluetooth connected to the Chromebook and that’s where the programming comes in,” explains Maura Cosgrove, MiSciDo Program Coordinator.

    Kids can write code on the connected Chromebook that can make their lego creature move for 5 seconds, turn around, do a 90-degree spin, record thier voice and have it talk, have a motion sensor that activates movement and more ways the kids can customize it. So far, Little Bit has brought the program to 105 K-thru-6 classrooms since it started last year …and facilitators say it’s already helping peak kids’ interest in math and science, and start seeing themselves in a whole new way.

    “One of the beginning activities is asking them to draw a scientist and a lot of the students are drawing the white male with the crazy hair and the beaker and a lab coat,” says Cosgrove. “And then afterwards they’re drawing themselves, or someone who looks like them.”

    The Little Bit Foundation also has numbers to back up its success rate.

    “We’ve been able to show through data and following our students year after year that when Little Bit serves a student, their attendance improves,” Hanley says. “And when attendance improves, higher education occurs, so we’re extremely, extremely proud of that.”