Volunteers from Engage Learning Oklahoma, Home Depot, Devon Energy and the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation began work Wednesday on three new spaces geared toward STEM education at Mark Twain Elementary about two miles west of downtown Oklahoma City. More than 135 volunteers painted buildings, demolished out-of-date structures and set up new equipment for students.

The STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — center inside Mark Twain Elementary will include equipment designed to enhance student learning. The room will feature equipment to practice circuitry and programming as well as tables, workbenches and building blocks of various sizes to practice design skills.

“One of the great things about this is Cal Ripken Foundation will be training teachers on how to use all this equipment,” said Christina Rehkop, director of community relations with Devon Energy. “There will be 33 STEM centers in Oklahoma City Public Schools, and those are with the Ripken Foundation.”

The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation is the non-profit providing equipment for the STEM spaces for OKCPS elementaries.

Twelve of the 33 elementary schools in Oklahoma City still need financial partners.

Two STEM spaces unique to Mark Twain

In addition to the STEM center, volunteers also renovated a building next to the school to house a maker space for both students and families alike. According to Bart Keeton, executive director of Engage Learning Oklahoma, the maker space will include 3D printers, laser cutters, a full wood shop and other tools community members can use.

“It’s about 21st century skills,” Keeton said about the maker space. “It’s about creativity, collaboration, problem solving and just having the chance to work together to solve really interesting problems. It gives the students a sense of empowerment.”

In addition, Engage Learning will staff the maker space.

“There’s also going to be a full time staff of nonprofit-funded folks who are incredibly creative teachers and makers who will be working with the school,” Keeton said. “That’s something that’s really, really unique here to Mark Twain.”

Volunteers renovated a third area as a STEM-focused extension to a parent resource room in Mark Twain. Shannon Dennis, community engagement director for Smart Start Central Oklahoma spoke of its importance. Smart Start Central Oklahoma is an organization dedicated to providing early-childhood education to Oklahoma children.

“This (community space) is really to support students and families of Mark Twain Elementary and the head start and early head start. But we also have the opportunity to support this neighborhood as well,” she said.

Dennis said Smart Start went door-to-door to ask members of the neighborhood what they desired from the community space, which currently includes a 3D printer, building blocks, coding practice kits and books for young children.

“Really, the possibilities are endless in terms of what the community decides to use this space for,” she said. “We’re trying to make this place just as flexible as possible so we can offer anything from counseling to zumba sessions to community meals to parenting classes.”

Home Depot, Devon provide labor

Volunteers from Home Depot and Devon Energy work to renovate a building designed to house a maker space for Mark Twain Elementary in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, July 17. (Ben White)

Volunteers in orange Home Depot shirts renovated the maker space building.

“We have about 135 volunteers out here from all over the state of Oklahoma,” said Mitch Rusk, team captain for Home Depot in Oklahoma City. “So we got Tulsa, Ada, Lawton, Amarillo, Texas and all Oklahoma City stores. We got all our store managers here.”

Devon Energy also provided volunteers.

“We thought this would be a great opportunity for our team to get together and do a team-building slash volunteering event,” said Allison Bales, a supervisor with Devon. “My team members, they volunteer as part of the mentoring Devon does with Mark Twain so they were excited to come out here and help build out this STEM center.”

The official ribbon cutting ceremony for Mark Twain’s new STEM centers is scheduled for Aug. 27.