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Arts & Scraps Melds Art and Science

The Detroit organization teaches students the power of STEM in a creative and environmentally responsible way

With few exceptions, people rarely consider the creative and the scientific existing in the same space. But in the Arts & Scraps world, art and analytics co-mingle effortlessly. "Arts & Scraps is a non-profit that uses recycled materials to teach students of all ages about science, technology, engineering and math," says interim executive director Ang Adamiak. Instead of being relegated to some landfill, materials like CDs, wine corks or puzzle pieces are donated by individuals and businesses, housed at the organization's Detroit location and then reused in creative projects. The materials are made available to the public through their store, open three days a week. At the heart of Arts & Scraps' operation, though, are the 300 to 350 events and programs held annually that are geared toward educating and inspiring local students. "We like to say, 'we don't make art but we make artists,'" Adamiak says

Arts & Scraps was started in 1989 in the basement of a church, then open just one day a week. "We started, really, as a resource for teachers," Adamiak says. "Our founder/director was a teacher, and she said, 'There's all this stuff in the world, and we've got all these great ideas. Why don't we put the two together and become a resource for the community?'" One of the most impactful advancements the group has made since then has been the addition of programming for students. "We started having students come to our location and we'd teach lessons that were based on state (and) national standards – even 20 to 25 years ago – so that it would really work with what teachers were already doing and enhance their lessons," Adamiak says. "And fast-forward to today, and we're still doing that; about 150 of our programs are educational programs."

When area school transportation budgets took a hit a decade or so ago, Arts & Scraps decided to venture out into the community. "We figured out how to go mobile. We started going to the schools directly and working with them in their classrooms," she says. They also introduced the ScrapMobile truck, which boasts about 25 bins, chock full of materials. "It's like a mini version of our store," Adamiak says. "So students still get that part of the experience. They get to use their decision-making skills," while shopping for what they'll need to bring their ideas to life.

UnitedHealthcare has been valuable in helping to continue that commitment to local engagement, Adamiak says. "We were able to do five programs with (UnitedHealthcare) this summer, which was really fun. They allowed us to get into the community and do some events at New Center Park with their film series, and we also got to do an event for families with children with special needs," she explains. "It was such a perfect partnership because the adults could learn about what UnitedHealthcare could do from their side, and the students could be working with us and having fun, and learning about STEM."

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are a priority for Arts & Scraps, with about 14 different curriculum options from which teachers can choose that are all geared toward STEM education. Adamiak's personal favorite is the Space and Alien Kit, which starts with students being taught about what makes a star a star, a planet a planet and the like. "The students learn what those criteria are and they invent their own planet," she says. "They have to decide how close or far it'll be from the sun and what kind of atmosphere it'll have. We give them their bag of stuff, and from that they'll make the alien that'll live on their imaginary planet." While creating, students are forced to consider how the characteristics of the environment they've dreamt up will affect their alien's appearance. It's truly where art meets science.

New and ongoing programs and events are always in the works. Up next is the Arts & Scraps Block Party, an open house of sorts at the store on Sept. 15 that'll offer an afternoon of music, art, food and games. "A lot of people are afraid of creativity, especially adults. And then a lot of people are afraid of STEM," Adamiak says. "Being able to meet them where they are and bridge that gap for them, and encourage them to explore that side of themselves that they're maybe not as comfortable with, it's really fun."

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