A Lafayette school’s engineering students have helped transform a visit to Girard Park into a new kind of learning experience for children.
Students from the David Thibodaux STEM Academy — the acronym stands for science, technology, engineering and math — designed 15 interactive stations that provide kids visiting the park an opportunity to develop critical thinking skills outside of a typical classroom setting.
The students teamed up with the Lafayette Kiwanis Club Foundation and Lafayette’s Project Front Yard to turn their ideas into a reality. The installations were unveiled at 9 a.m. Friday at Girard Park.
“It’s all about getting kids out to learn about STEM and getting excited,” said Ariel Bruno, a senior at the David Thibodaux STEM Academy who worked closely with the project.
The students were given free rein on the design for the park project. In the end, they decided to place 15 small signs around the pond of Girard Park, asking children questions about the animals, habitat, horticulture and geometry to encourage a deeper understanding of the world around them.
Each sign also has on it the title of a children’s book with a connection to the question, along with fun directions on how the kids should proceed to the next sign. Some books are classic favorites such as “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein and “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak.
One question encourages the children to count as many ducks as they can see and think about where they live. Farther down the trail, another sign asks the children to help Lady Di Ameter (a character from the children’s book “Sir Cumference and the First Round Table”) to find her way to the next sign by finding as many points and lines as they can.
Kevin Domingue, a member of the Lafayette Kiwanis Club Foundation, said his group approached the David Thibodaux STEM Academy and asked “if they would like to partner on a project where we could put in some sort of learning installment for kids to learn when they’re out with their parents.”
He said teachers and students were excited about the project, which cost less than $5,000.
Most of the work put in by the students was done after school under the supervision of the engineering academy director, Nicolette Darjean.
After a year and a half of planning, the design was chosen because it was seen as more convenient, effective and less intrusive on the park than other alternatives, according to Darjean. It is also designed so the signs are easily replaceable with new questions, which are already being planned.
Project Front Yard is an initiative through Lafayette Consolidated Government that encourages beautification and education throughout the community.
Domingue said Kiwanis has been working for some time with Lafayette Consolidated Government on improving parks and the project with the school takes the effort to a new level.
“We decided that in addition to working with them on making safe places for kids to play and so forth, we would provide an opportunity for them to learn outside of the classroom,” Domingue said.