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Ryleigh Coughlin, 11, shows her siblings a color sorting robot she built during Fort Belvoir Elementary School’s Young Scholars program July 26. The students worked for three weeks on engineering and robotics challenges. 

While many Fort Belvoir children enjoyed summer mornings at the pool, dozens of students at Fort Belvoir Elementary School spent the last three weeks creating, failing and, finally, solving problems, according to Melvina Michie, Director of the Young Scholar’s Program. The program is designed to increase young student’s knowledge and have them be critical and creative thinkers. The idea is to have them follow Fairfax County Public Schools’ portrait of a graduate at a very early age, to improve their intellectual abilities and help them become gifted engineers and scholars. 

“Many of our students get a unique lesson here,” Michie said. “In one room, they were problem-solving as biomedical engineers, and in another room they were building robots and coding.” 

One engineering task was to build a bridge, using just a deck of cards, without tape or staples that could bear the weight of 20 pennies. The teachers didn’t give them much direction, and instead let them figure it out through trial and error. 

Shdonna Drumgoole, who had her three incoming sixth-grade children attend the program, said she was stunned what an effect the lab had on her two daughters, who came home and announced they learned about biomedical engineering and decided that is the career they both wanted. 

“They grabbed their computers and started researching exactly what biomedical engineers do, and they have vowed this is what they want to do with their lives,” said Drumgoole. 

Kara Fahy, STEM/PBL Coach, said it’s been interesting to see growth in the program, now in its 10th year, and how the process has improved student resilience and tenacity. 

“I remember when we started, students were really focused on ‘what’s the right answer,’ and to see this growth over time where students were willing to take those risks – and fail – and try another way of problem solving,” Fahy said. “Their stamina has grown to know they can be creative and come up with a solution.”