While the Sheshequin-Ulster Elementary School in Ulster closed last June due to a shrinking enrollment and a tight budget, it is scheduled to re-open as the ThinkSTEM Academy on Oct. 1.

"We're going to start an after-school program for students in grades six to eight in the Towanda, Northeast Bradford, Sayre and Athens school districts which will be focused on science, technology, engineering and math," said Brian Driscoll, who is the educational funding coordinator for BLaST Intermediate Unit 17. The after-school program will supplement the academic program in the four participating school districts, he said.

The after-school program, which is called the ThinkSTEM Academy, will be free of charge to students and will be funded by a $333,000 federally funded 21st Century Grant that has been awarded to Intermediate Unit 17, he said. Intermediate Unit 17 will serve as the administrator of the ThinkSTEM Academy, he said.

The after-school program, which will be located in the Sheshequin-Ulster Elementary School, is a "very, very interesting opportunity," Driscoll said.

"Whether you live in Philadelphia, Los Angeles or LeRaysville, in the 21st Century, you're part of a global community and the job competition is global," according to a press release about the ThinkSTEM Academy that was issued by Intermediate Unit 17. The program will be free to "any student from the participating school districts who wishes to learn and develop skills that will help make them ... 21st Century competitors" and leaders, the press release said.

At its most recent meeting, Driscoll made a presentation about the program to the Towanda School Board, after which the board voted unanimously to have the Towanda School District participate in the ThinkSTEM Academy.

The ThinkSTEM Academy will have a "very focused and rigorous" curriculum in science, technology, engineering and math, Driscoll said.

A program to teach thinking skills, which was developed by Cornell University professors Derek Cabrera and Laura Colosi, will be incorporated into the ThinkSTEM Academy, he said.

"We have found a lot of success" in using the Cornell program in other Intermediate Unit 17 projects, Driscoll said.

The after-school program will be "very project-based. It will not just be instructors speaking at students," he said. The program will be an "opportunity to … have supplemental instruction and hands-on learning experience," he said.

"We are actively advertising for and interviewing for instructors for the program. We hope to get instructors with a background in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field, with actual hands-on working experience in that field," Driscoll said.

The after-school program will take place from approximately 3:30 p.m. to approximately 6:30 p.m. four days per week, he said. It will take place after school and also as a summer session, he said.

There are other STEM schools, located in places like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, which have had "a lot of success in developing" skills in students that they can use in their future jobs, Driscoll said.

"Hopefully, students will have the opportunity to 'find themselves' in this school" and then go on to bigger things in high school, college, and in the workplace, he said.

"We just started a website for the school," Driscoll said.

The program will be available in quarterly installments, including three sessions during the school year and the fourth during the summer, he said.

The school-year sessions will be scheduled to coincide with the public schools' sports seasons.

"We don't want to discourage" students who are involved in sports or other extracurricular activities, from also participating in ThinkSTEM, he explained.

For example, if a student played football in the fall, but was free after school during the winter and spring, he'd be able to participate in the ThinkSTEM Academy in the winter and spring, he said.

"Attendance in the ThinkSTEM program is key to students' skill development, so students are expected to commit to regular attendance whenever possible," Driscoll added.

The maximum number of students who can enroll at ThinkSTEM at any one time is limited by the number of students the school can physically hold while being in compliance with the fire code, he said.

"I believe it can hold 200 students," said Driscoll, who added that he doesn't expect there to be that many students enrolled in the school.

"We hope to have class sizes of 10 to 15 students," Driscoll said.

Buses will transport Towanda School District students to the after-school ThinkSTEM program, and will also transport them back to the Towanda School District campus at the end of the day, he said. Parents will then pick up their children from the Towanda campus.

"We hope ThinkSTEM really becomes a community partnership which will help fertilize and grow a workforce that is interested in science and engineering" and that will have 21st Century skills, he said.

The ThinkSTEM program is scheduled to start Oct. 1.

A press conference about the ThinkSTEM program will take place at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 30 at the Sheshequin-Ulster Elementary School.

At the press conference, people involved in developing the curriculum for the school will "lay out what the program is and discuss things in more detail, how students are selected, and how it (the program) will work," Driscoll said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.