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NAMPA — Boise State student and mother of four Heather Lee, 43, has always been looking for opportunities to provide young children with the resources they need to succeed later in life. 

Now, because of a capstone course from BSU, Lee finally has her chance. 

With the help of Joyce Gergen at the Nampa Public Library, Lee organized Canyon County Early STEAM Day from 11 a.m to 3 p.m. Saturday at the library for her senior service learning project. She intends for the event to rotate between Nampa, Caldwell and Middleton libraries each year.

Saturday's event, which is free to the public, will include about 20 different work stations at the Nampa library ranging from medicine to botany to coding.

STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Lee said there are few resources in Idaho that provide enriching material in these subjects for children ages 0-8, which is the target demographic for her event. 

In Idaho, Lee said it is difficult to find STEAM learning opportunities for children before high school, especially in Canyon County where  a large portion of students fall in under-represented demographics. Lee said 35 percent of the Treasure Valley's homeless student population lives in Nampa, based on data from United Way of Treasure Valley. 

Lee is the early education coordinator at the Idaho STEM Action Center, majoring in multidisciplinary studies at Boise State. Her capstone project has been in the works for the last eight months, but it has been on her mind much longer, she said.

As a mother of four daughters living in Canyon County, Lee said she has spent a lot of time educating her children and exposing them to fields they may want to work in someday. She said this exposure led to her oldest daughter to tell Lee that she's already found her calling. 

"As a parent, that's all you want to hear," Lee said. Amanda, 15, wants to be a heart surgeon. 

Lee said she was driven to coordinate STEAM Day because of Idaho's low rankings in education. The state is ranked 48th in K-12 education and 52nd (including U.S. territories) in early childhood oversight and regulation, according to an Education Week report and data from Childcare Aware of America. 

Gergen said the Nampa library's staff consistently tries to implement STEAM education into events. Gergen said there is a bi-weekly STEAM story time for children, where she and other staff read stories relating to different STEAM topics and hold activities afterward. But Gergen said the library is limited by its own resources for what they can provide. 

Gergen has been involved in the organization of Lee's project from the beginning, providing guidance and ideas while Lee has done most of the legwork. Lee said Gergen's help was vital in pulling together the event.

CANYON COUNTY STEAM DAY

Professionals in various fields will be at Saturday's event to answer children's questions and lead hands-on activities. A Horizon Air representative will help the children make paper airplanes to teach them about the science of flight, and someone from The College of Idaho's music department will be there to teach them about the science of sound. 

Lee said it was important to her to include the "A" for arts in the STEAM acronym, rather than sticking to the traditional STEM, because she knows small children connect with the arts easier than they do other topics. 

"Art is the written language of young children," Lee said. 

Lee intends to make Canyon County STEAM Day an annual event, rotating the locations through several Canyon County libraries to spread the resources to as many children as possible. 

"Taking care of our young community is something we should do, so nobody falls through the cracks," Lee said. 

Erin Bamer is the city of Nampa reporter. Contact her at 208-465-8193, or ebamer@idahopress.com. Follow on Twitter @ErinBamer. 

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