Diversity & Inclusion
Education / Nonprofits / STEM / Workplace culture / Youth

Wilmington’s Fouryouth Productions gets creative with virtual STEM programming

The nonprofit closed its IRL doors due to COVID-19, and opened a new, sometimes mysterious, world virtually. (Hi, forensics and marine biology.)

"Jungle," a 2018 Fouryouth project by Jairus Branch and Jontae Brown. (Image courtesy of Fouryouth Productions)

Fouryouth Productions in Wilmington, a youth education program that combines STEM with photography and cooking, was determined to keep its students engaged when it was forced to go virtual.

The program primarily serves students attending Thomas Edison Charter School (TECS) in North Wilmington, a no-barrier K-8 that serves the area’s historically under-resourced neighborhoods. While the students have been made as digitally prepared for at-home schooling as possible by TECS, Fouryouth Director Theresa Emmett knew that for their virtual program to be successful, it had to engage the kids.

“During the summer we put together 200 science kits for our students, so each day our kids would build a different science project with step by step instructions,” Emmett told Technical.ly. “They loved it. We had close to 90% attendance over the summer.”

Kits, which were delivered to students’ homes, included a “pizza box maze” where a “pizza delivery” flat box was full of items like straws, Popsicle sticks and bouncy balls that were turned into 3D mazes.

But the most exciting program was an eight-week virtual forensics mystery case. The first case, “The Case of Blackbeard’s Missing Treasure,” featured guest Rick Allen, the underwater videographer for the Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge Shipwreck project.

“We combined history with forensic science, videography, marine biology, underwater archaeology and detective work,” said Emmett. “It was so much fun — I made a virtual detective office with details of the case. I would meet with the kids twice a week, and we would have a guest join us, whether it was a ‘witness’ or ‘suspect,’ and expose the kids to a whole bunch of career opportunities.”

In addition to Allen, a University of Delaware marine biologist played the woman who found the treasure and had it mysteriously disappear at the Wilmington Train Station. A park ranger from Alapocas State Park searched the park looking for the treasure. And a real FBI agent joined the class so they could hand over the case to her, since the crime crossed state lines.

New stories are currently being developed for future mysteries, and starting in January, a similar one-hour Saturday virtual program will launch, free for anyone in the 7 to 9 and 10 to 14 age groups to sign up for.

If you think you’d be a good guest for one of the cases, Emmett is looking. Participants will receive a script to read for part of the guest appearance, then will have time to talk with the students about their careers.

Although Fouryouth has been successful with its virtual programming, like most nonprofits, COVID-19 has hit it hard.

“A lot of our operational income comes from selling photography [at festivals and events], and all of our events were canceled,” said Emmett.

You can help support them by purchasing handmade and vintage items from the Fouryouth Etsy, or you can have Fouryouth curate artwork for your office’s walls for three months to a year. Of course, you may also purchase artwork as well. Contact the team via Fouryouth.org for more information.


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