A new cooperative in Cheverly is bringing “hard” sciences, such as computer programming, anatomy and physics, to home-schooled students across the county and beyond.
The Cheverly STEM Education Center is the brainchild of two home-schooling parents — former private school chemistry teacher Ann Caldwell and retired civil engineer Jeanne Robinson, both of Cheverly.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Despite her science background, Caldwell said, it was difficult to teach science when there are only three students — her children, who are ages 8, 11 and 13.
“It’s kind of like having a PE class for one,” she said. “You need other kids to make it work.”
The Cheverly STEM Education Center opened its doors in October 2013 at Cheverly United Methodist Church with 20 students. Now in its second eight-week trimester, the center meets once a week, and its enrollment has grown to 46 students. Many are from Prince George’s County, but some come from as far as Baltimore and Virginia, Caldwell said.
Caldwell teaches the physics and chemistry classes. Robinson teaches engineering.
Robinson has a 12-year-old son. Her older daughter, who has a doctorate in physical therapy, teaches anatomy and physiology; her son-in-law teaches computer programming.
“You can find an awful lot of co-ops teaching enrichment courses, like music or art or theater,” Robinson said. “But we’re pretty unique in Maryland and Prince George’s County in offering these sort of core classes.”
Myra Tyler of Glenn Dale began home-schooling her daughter, Carletta, 14, this school year.
She said the STEM group has made teaching science easier.
“I’m teaching her ninth-grade biology, but this offered me a more intensive science where I don’t have to go out and purchase my own microscopes or sheep hearts,” Tyler said.
Caldwell said the group may expand next year to include a second day, adding algebra and chemistry.
Caldwell said the group charges fees to cover lab costs, instructors and rental of the church space, but no one is turned away due to an inability to pay.
Last year, there were 3,332 home-schooled children in Prince George’s County, said Lillian Norris-Holmes, director of the Prince George’s County Public Schools’ Homeschooling Office, which provides support and monitoring for home-schooled students.
Assmaa El-Haggan of Columbia said she was desperate to find a program for her home-schooled son Hude, 10, that would teach the principles of science. El-Haggan said her son was enrolled in another science class for home-schoolers that featured entirely hands-on experiments.
“They didn’t teach the theory to back it up,” El-Haggan said. “When he was 8, that was perfect, but now that he’s gotten older, it’s important that he learn that theory.”
El-Haggan said that as a former science teacher, she knew the instruction her son was missing, but could not find it available until she discovered the Cheverly STEM program through an online home-schooling listserv.
“They do tons of hands-on here, but they also talk about the concepts and theory,” El-Haggan said. “There’s nothing out like what they’re doing here. This program is a godsend to us.”