Nonprofit organization Inertia is here to tell kids that not only can they be good at science and math, but it can be fun too. INERTIA visits elementary schools and hosts experiments designed to bring new enthusiasm to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and mathematics) education.
Students in third through fifth grade at Oakcrest and Ensley participate in workshops covering topics like chemistry, astronomy, and biology. They begin with a survey asking them what they know about a topic. Then, they get started with an overview of their first lesson followed by an experiment to help them grasp the concepts.
Tuesday afternoon, students created models of the solar system. Thursday, they squeezed peanut butter down a straw to demonstrate how the esophagus works.
It’s this active approach to learning that Founder and Executive director Basil Kuloba says is one of the most important parts of the program.
“I myself am a hands on learner so we want to give them an opportunity to reinforce what they’ve been taught in class by their teachers with some kind of hands-on activity,” Kuloba said.
INERTIA operates on donations and funding alone, offering their workshops to the schools at no cost. They specifically chose Oakcrest and Ensley because they were underperforming schools in the area. Serving the communities that needed help most was important to the organization’s mission.
Two years ago, Kuloba sat down with friends Marcus Jackson and Carson Wilbur. They were all studying STEM related subjects at University of West Florida, but felt they could spend time giving back to Escambia.
“We all wanted to give back to the community in some way," Kuloba said. "So all of us being scientists we thought why not do something with kids making science fun?”
INERTIA is helping tackle a long-term jobs challenge that expands outside of Escambia County. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs in the STEM field grew more than 10 percent between 2009 and 2015. The average growth for non-STEM positions increased at just 5 percent. INERTIA works with elementary schoolers aged 8-10. Kuloba said they focus on this age range because it’s when a lot of kids decide what they are good at and what they’re not.
“What we're trying to do is help those kids who might start telling themselves that they're not smart or not good at science or technology or engineering or mathematics, [and put] them in an environment where they have fun doing it," Kuloba said. "So even if they're not naturally good they're having fun so they feel engaged and they keep coming back and then they will get good at it."
John Herber is a fifth grade science teacher at Oakcrest elementary. He thinks the relationships the students build with volunteers is one of the best parts about INERTIA.
“They even mention is this volunteer coming today? Who is going to be our volunteer? So they get really excited about that,” he said.
Donovan Montano is a fifth grader at Oakcrest and a big fan of INERTIA. He’s thankful for all the volunteers who come out to his school and facilitate the programs.
“I have a great respect for them because they come in this school Oakcrest Elementary just to help us with these activities, and I really think that’s really nice of them,” he said.
As for INERTIA’s future, Kuloba says they’re going to focus on schools in Escambia County for now.
“We'd like to be in each of the schools in Escambia County, helping in any way we can. We'd like to continue to grow there. Escambia is our home and we want to make sure our home is succeeding academically.”
To learn more about INERTIA and ways to get involved, visit their website for more information.