STEM Takeover

Valley Mall Overrun With Science, Tech, Engineering, Math Students Saturday

Posted: February 25, 2013

Yohann Malvaez, 6, of Harrisonburg, operates “Water Robot” at the Valley Mall in Harrisonburg on Saturday. The robot, built by a team from Thomas Harrison Middle School, was on display as part of Harrisonburg City Schools STEM Day. (Photos by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
Maryam Mohammed, 5, of Harrisonburg, holds an anemometer (windspeed gauge) she made from paper cups with the help of her mother, Zahraa, during the event.
Khashayar Dashtpour (right), a student at Blue Ridge Community College and mentor for the Harrisonburg High School Big Blue Botics team, operates the basketball throwing robot “Sampsonator” with HHS senior Jordan Leaman at Harrisonburg City Schools STEM Day at Valley Mall Saturday.
HARRISONBURG — Tucked between kiosks and taking over entryways, students engaging in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, projects turned the Valley Mall into one big classroom Saturday for Harrisonburg City Schools’ STEM Day.

Shoppers who set out to peruse store windows looked on curiously as hundreds of children parked themselves in front of tables to watch physics demonstrations, participate in engineering design projects and learn about alternative energies.

The event, the first of its kind for the division, has several objectives, according to Amy Sabarre, STEM education coordinator for city schools.

“It’s to celebrate learning, to get kids interested and excited about STEM fields,” she said. “This is a showing off of our commitment to STEM education in Harrisonburg City Schools.”

The division has put an emphasis on STEM education in recent years, launching “academies” at the high school and middle school levels that allow select students to take a tailored course load that will prepare them for careers in STEM fields. The division also encourages students to get interested in the hands-on fields at the elementary level, where more problem solving projects have been added to the curriculum.

“It’s teaching you things while you’re having fun,” said Maya Waid, 8, who enjoys her school’s STEM learning.

For students Alex Osinkosky, Anna Derrick, and Casey Wilson, all eighth-graders in Thomas Harrison Middle School’s STEM academy, they enjoyed seeing younger students at Saturday’s event.

“It’s really nice to help a lot of kids learn about [STEM],” said Alex, 13. “It can help them get an idea of what STEM is like in middle school.”

The event was the culmination of about six months of planning and collaboration with various groups from James Madison University and Blue Ridge Community College, as well as other area STEM-oriented organizations, who all helped man booths Saturday.

Waid and companion Jeslyn Liu, 8, both third-graders at Smithland Elementary School, said they thought it would be “cool to see all the activities,” at the mall Saturday, and were surprised with the event’s size.

“I thought it was going to be in one room and it’s like all over the mall,” Maya said.

Although Sabarre said the mall has been great to work with, the event may already need to consider a change of venue to accommodate the massive interest it received from students and teachers. In all 65 interactive booths were weaved into the mall’s landscape Saturday, manned by volunteers who wanted to put their projects or work on display.

“I think we’ve outgrown it already,” Sabarre said. “Next year we’ll have to go for a bigger location.”

Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or

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