Showcase Concludes Inaugural BLAST Academy

  • August 1st, 2022
  • in CCBP

by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

BLAST Academy (Building Leaders Through the Arts, STEM and Teamwork), a new summer enrichment program for K–6 students, celebrated its inaugural class with a final showcase and awards ceremony on July 29 at the Moody Music Hall.

“I was the first in my family to go to college. A lot of people helped me in my life, and personally to be a part of something like this and providing this opportunity for young people, it’s very, very special,” said Dr. Samory Pruitt, vice president for Community Affairs.

Led by Dr. Daniela Susnara, director of planning and assessment for community engagement in the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, BLAST developed as a partnership among the Hale County School District, the Tuscaloosa City School District (TCS) and the Tuscaloosa County School System, as well as the College of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences at The University of Alabama.

“As educators, we’ve known research for a long time that the amount of time kids are in school or in a space where they learn matters,” said Dr. Andrew Maxey, director of strategic initiatives for TCS. “The research on what works in the summer space is that they have to want to be here more than they want to be in the pool.”

Held on UA’s campus from July 5–29, BLAST Academy encouraged summer learning in a creative environment for children ages 5–12, with a focus on arts education, physical education, STEM and social emotional learning.

“I worked for the Tuscaloosa City School system, and I was like, this is something so great,” said, D’Juana Cook, whose grandson participated in BLAST. “I told my daughter [to] let him do it because it enhances his mind. It gives him something to keep thinking and keep focusing on. But everything was organized well, and I’m very pleased.”

“I enjoyed the different people coming together, the schools coming together,” echoed Shenna Crockett, whose daughter participated in BLAST. “I think it’s very helpful for them educational wise social as well as learning more structure in a different environment besides school.”

Camp instructional sessions were held in UA classrooms, letting participants experience the educational benefits at the Capstone.

“I taught some classes in one of the buildings this summer, and I got to see every day what was going on through three floors of my building, so it was really exciting,” said Dr. Liza Wilson, senior associate dean for the UA College of Education. “When there’s fun, you want to learn and keep learning. We want you [the campers] to be lifelong learners.”

At the start of the showcase, campers’ experiments from the STEM sessions were on display in the lobby of the Moody Music Hall in the form of city skyscrapers built from paper geometric shapes to bridges made of craft sticks. There were also petri dishes from their biology lessons and lab journals where participants noted their observations and thoughts throughout the program.

After the welcome, the STEM education and physical education award winners for each grade level were announced. The showcase concluded with an arts education performance of each age group.

“One of my favorite words is STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math,” said Dr. Charles Snead, director of the School of Music. “Science, technology, engineering and math are the disciplines that make it possible for us to have a world to live in, but it is those of us in the arts and the creative disciplines that make that life worth living, so the creativity that comes from what has happened this week is awesome. We all know from all kinds of research and studies the more creative a mind thinks, the better you are at whatever you do.”