RIT STEP provides supports for students beyond academics

With activities like regular workshops, STEP staff from the K-12 University Center tailor topics to important learning for youth about leadership, STEM, stress management, teambuilding and more

Lisa Michalek

Middle school students work on an activity during a stress management workshop hosted by STEP Assistant Director Lisa Michalek. Workshops are held with students weekly, and cover topics such as leadership, STEM, teambuilding and more. The Science and Technology Entry Program, through RIT’s K-12 University Center, works with eligible students from across the county to provide enrichment activities to help foster academic growth.

At Burger and Roth junior high schools in the Rush-Henrietta Central School District, about 50 students work daily with staff from the Science and Technology Entry Program – also known as STEP – through Rochester Institute of Technology’s K-12 University Center. Enrichment activities offered are meant to help foster academic growth, and often go beyond the classroom to support students.

This school year, STEP Assistant Director Lisa Michalek is hosting weekly workshops with students that provide homework help, feature STEM activities, and highlight various development topics. During a workshop this fall about stress management, different stress types were discussed that led into a painting project, while listening to calming background sounds.

“Middle school students are often stressed about relationships and schoolwork,” Michalek said. “We discuss good and bad stress, and things that aid in stress relief.”

Some ways to manage stress, she added, include drawing, exercising, going outside, listening to music, reading, talking to a trusted adult and more.

“If stress isn’t managed, this can lead to a decrease in our immune system response, meaning that we are more likely to get colds, flu or not feel well,” Michalek said. “Managing stress is important for our emotional well-being, and for building relationships among peers and family.”

With two workshops held weekly, Michalek said students also participate in teamwork across all grade levels, which allows them to bolster leadership and listening skills, while mingling with others they might not have the chance to connect with otherwise. Afterschool advising is also provided for homework help, while other days are invested in activities that promote science, technology, engineering and math.

It’s similar at other schools within the county that the STEP team is embedded in with outreach specialists Meg Brown, Rick King and Dana Storti.

“Students enjoy working on (these) projects and workshops,” Michalek said.

The program works within the schools to provide collaborative services that also include counseling with support from a school counselor in a confidential setting, and with STEP outreach specialists during designated times for further mentorship.

STEP is a state-funded precollegiate initiative that provides outreach to seventh- through 12th-grade students from underrepresented and economically disadvantaged groups to support pursuing college and careers in STEM fields, as well as New York state licensed professions. The goal is to provide afterschool and weekend enrichment activities to help foster academic growth, the development of a STEM identity and more, so students can successfully transition from middle school to high school and high school to college or the workforce.


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