Northern Virginia Students with Special Needs And Their Families Get Exposed to STEAM

The Northern Virginia District PTA partnered with the Arlington County Special Education PTA and the Fairfax County Special Education PTA to host an iSTEAM Expo for Northern Virginia students with special needs and their families.

This first-of-its-kind event, held at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia, featured various stations for students and their families to conduct science experiments, ask questions about STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), learn about music and art, as well as engage with exhibitors about potential STEAM opportunities at and for their schools and within their communities.

Exhibitors that participated during the event included Mathnasium of NOVA, USTA Mid-Atlantic, 3D Me, AllStar Photo Booth, Fun Services, Virginia529, The Downs Syndrome Association of NOVA, Arc of NOVA, Formed Families Forward, FCPS Parent Resource Center, Arlington CPS Parent Resource Center, Sliding Doors STEM & Dyslexia Learning Center, Arlington County Therapeutic Recreation Office, NOVA Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons, Parents of Autistic Children-NoVA, ADC Cheer, Educational Theatre Co., Kat & Mo Art Studios, Original Works, Arlington SEPTA, Fairfax SEPTA, Washington Nationals, National PTA, and Bayer.

The Sept. 7 event was made possible through the National PTA STEM+Families program, which was designed to increase access to STEM education and careers, especially among under-represented youth, by developing, evaluating and sharing effective ways to engage families in STEM experiences, while working with partners to improve access to STEM school and community learning environments. This initiative is consistent with PTA’s vision that all students have the family and community support needed to access and pursue STEM opportunities and careers and with PTA’s mission to make every child’s potential a reality.

One of the students that attended the event was Ben, a Fairfax County student, who uses a letter board with a communication partner to communicate. Ben made sure that he met with PTA leaders during the event and indicated, “This i-STEAM event presented by the local county special education PTAs and the Northern Virginia District PTA was totally innovative and great! It is so necessary and important to expose all students to the wonders and value of math and science regardless of labels.”

3D-Me, a company based on Vienna, Va. that provides introductory 3D photography (scanning), 3D printing, and computer-aided design workshops to students and teachers, engaged with students and their families about using 3D technology to make keepsake figurines. Bruce Wyman, Chief Strategy Officer, 3D-Me and a STEAM teacher within Fairfax County Public Schools, indicated about the event, “It was a great event with wonderful educational sessions for students and their families as well as PTA leaders.”

NOVA District PTA, Arlington County Special Education PTA, and the Fairfax County Special Education PTA look forward to hosting this type of event for students with special needs and their families again with support from the business community and various community organizations.

Get everything you need to host a STEM+Families event at

Debbie Kilpatrick is the district director of NOVA District PTA. Further inquiries about the Lake Braddock Secondary School event can be directed to 

STEM Nights Bring Families and Experts Together to Learn about Science

Just like children don’t stop learning when the final bell rings, great teaching doesn’t stop at the end of the school day. Across the country, teachers, parents, and community members are coming together more and more frequently to host STEM nights to get families thinking about science, technology, engineering and math through interactive, hands-on, engaging activities.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is proud to support many dedicated teachers who plan and lead STEM nights at their schools. Michelle Estrada, a kindergarten teacher at Desert Hills Elementary in Las Cruses, N.M. has been hosting STEM nights in her community for seven years.

She is a recipient of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST), the nation’s highest honors for K-12 STEM teachers, which NSF administers on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

As a Presidential Awardee in 2010, Michelle was invited to Washington, D.C., to take part in the National Recognition Events, received a signed certificate from the President and left with a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation. When she returned to New Mexico, her experience as an awardee motivated her to continue to improve her teaching, seek out new resources for her students, and engage her local community in more collaborative and effective ways than ever before.

Sensational Science Night

In 2009, Michelle applied for the Toyota Tapestry grant,  a partnership between Toyota and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) that provided annual grants to science teachers across the United States. Her proposal focused on the Rio Grande, which cuts right through Las Cruces, less than ten miles away from Desert Hills Elementary. She planned a collaborative and immersive series of events for her kindergarten class composed of field experiences, hands-on activities, demonstrations by local scientists and community educators, inquiry-based experiments, and a variety of cross-curricular studies. She was awarded $10,000 to fund her project, and Sensational Science Night was born.

At the first Sensational Science Night, 30 expert-volunteers from the community came to share their knowledge and inspire students and parents to be more curious about science. Since then, the event has more than tripled in size: in 2016, 30 organizations were represented by over 100 expert-volunteers, and more than 400 participants flooded the halls of Desert Hills Elementary. They all spent their evening exploring, designing, and thinking critically with one another.

STEM Nights are unparalleled opportunities to engage the community with the local—or even national—scientific community, and let students know what it looks like to be a scientist in practice. At Michelle’s event, students were able to interact with pharmaceutical students from the University of New Mexico, chemical engineering students from New Mexico State University, local museum curators with displays from their traveling collections, local firefighters teaching fire safety and fire science, and a local Astronomy organization which provided telescopes for student use.

The National Honor Society chapter of a local high school took over an entire wing of the school and facilitated hands-on activities, launching paper rockets, creating bouncy balls and making ice cream in a bag. Michelle didn’t stop at inviting the local science community—she invited local food trucks which offered dinner options on the school grounds, donating a percentage of their sales to fund scholarships for Camp Invention, a STEM summer program at Desert Hills Elementary.

Over the years, Michelle says the name of the event has changed to keep up with its popularity. Once Sensational Science Night, the moniker shifted to Sensational STEM Night, and this year morphed again into Magnificent Sensational STEAM Night (reflecting her decision to include the arts). We’re excited to see what it will be called in 2018.

To learn about how you can honor great teachers in your community with a PAEMST nomination, please visit our website at Nominations for K-6 grade STEM teachers are currently open.

For resources on how to host a STEM night at your school, check out National PTA’s new STEM + Families webpage.

Dr. Nafeesa H. Owens is a Program Director of Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching Program Lead at the National Science Foundation.