Hurricane Irma Update

FSA_logo_tp_distressed First things first: we’re OK! This is definitely a significant hurdle for us, but we’re going to be OK. We’ve received many concerned and supportive calls and emails from our amazing community to check in with Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead and our recovery efforts, so to keep you all up to date, here is the latest.
  • Full STEAM Ahead at St. John’s has been closed from September 7th and will be closed until at least Monday October 2nd.
  • From the day of the storm, Monday September 11th, until Friday, September 22, our classrooms and offices at St. John the Evangelist were without power.
  • St. John’s sustained damage to the church and there was water intrusion in both activity buildings, mainly in the Ballroom in our building. (Click here for all St. John’s Updates)
  • Clean up efforts by parish staff started immediately, with inside cleanup of buildings starting as soon as power was restored.
  • Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead partnered with the Gargiulo Education Center in the week before school started back up to provide mini-camps for both Full STEAM Ahead and Gargiulo kids.
  • We are continuing with our programs at Community School of Naples and St. John Neumann Catholic High School following their schedule
  • Private Lessons will be delayed following St. John’s availability
  • For the many who have asked how they can help and support, here are some great ways to support us
Thank you all for your support during these trying times. We look forward to getting back to normal and seeing our students making, learning, and doing amazing things! For questions, call (239) 451-3142 or email

Continue Reading

Post-Irma rebuilding – How You Can Help


FSA_logo_tp We’ve had dozens of offers of support (thank you!) during this difficult rebuilding time for all of us, and until now, we haven’t had a great answer for how to help. We are only recently fully aware of how deeply the storm has impacted Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead and its partner organizations like St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.

Here’s what we know:
  • Full STEAM Ahead at SJE will have had our doors closed from Sept 7th until at least October 2nd while the church buildings are repaired and cleaned. (Ouch.)
  • According to FEMA, 40% (or more) of small businesses fail after a natural disaster
  • Full STEAM Ahead exists to serve the kids and families in our community, and now is the time when most families need it most
  • We gave away $2240 in free tuition to support our local migrant community last week during our camps
  • We provided another $1440 in discounted tuition for our families during a time of need
  • We’re going to be OK. We are incredibly lucky to have the support of an incredible community.
  • We’ve got hundreds of kids and families eagerly anticipating our doors re-opening.

How To Help

Our first instinct is to help, not to ask for help. Knowing this, the best way to help us is to support the organizations that support us and help the kids that need our help.
Southwest Florida Community Foundation  Make a tax deductible donation to our STEAM Power fund. 100% of your donation pays for students from underrepresented groups to attend Full STEAM Ahead programs. Click Here to Donate
St John's logo  Make a donation to support the St. John the Evangelist Capital Campaign. This campaign is the driving force behind the CYO Community Center that Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead will soon call home. Click Here to Donate

Continue Reading

Teaching Perseverance = Teaching Success

If you’ve been around education for any amount of time, or if you work in any field that rewards hard work, you’ve probably noticed that there is one character trait that seems to separate those who rise to the top from those who blend in. It’s not intelligence, it’s not natural born talent for a particular skill, it’s not your education level. It’s perseverance.


Perseverance is often bundled together with “grit”, which can is described as “persistence + resilience”. It is also often associated with “firmness of character” or an “indomitable spirit”. It is also the subject of many a study linking particular character traits to long term success. In short, perseverance is most simply described as “not giving up”. Without a doubt, we can each point to an important point in our lives when perseverance saved us. And probably a few where it could have if we only had a bit more.

When it comes to perseverance and kids, it’s like almost any other skill. It comes naturally to some, and not so naturally to most. I’ve had kindergarteners tell me, “I knew it was going to be really hard, but I just kept working at it and I got it right!” I’ve had more than a few middle-schoolers and high-schoolers throw their hands up and give up at the first hint of a challenge. And I’ve seen just about everything in between. Like any skill, however, perseverance is something that can be learned, practiced, and cultivated. While we all may have our breaking point at which enough is enough, raising that threshold is a must for the success of any student.

So how do we teach kids perseverance? And where are they learning it now? In my time teaching in the classroom, I’d like to think I always did a pretty good job teaching persistence. I gave kids plenty of additional opportunities to work towards challenging problems (I literally had a wall of challenging problems), and rewarded their efforts for sticking with something long enough to solve a difficult problem. There are quite a few teachers who do similar things, especially in “gifted” classrooms, but there are even more that do not. Even at that, what I was teaching and having my kids practice wasn’t perseverance, it was persistence. The difference between the two is that one requires resilience, and one does not. Persistence is sticking with something long enough even though it’s hard. Perseverance is sticking with something even though you’ve already failed. And there’s quite a big difference between the two.

Our schools are set up to reach mastery of certain goals, called standards. While there is a sort of system in place to accommodate what kids should do when kids surpass that goal, it almost never happens that way. Time is the number one limiting factor of all teachers everywhere, and there simply isn’t enough time to plan for all such scenarios with the hundreds of different standards across all subject areas. In addition, if a student does not meet a particular standard, there is almost never an opportunity to go back and revisit that. Fail, and that’s it. Kids are indirectly taught to put their failures in the rearview mirror and hope it doesn’t come back around. In a perfect world, we’d revise our approach, reteach, reassess, and then move on from there, but with 20+ students all rising and falling in different places, this a completely unrealistic ideal.

Our schools generally do a good job raising most kids to a minimum bar, but not so much raising those that can surpass it above that bar. For most students, the qualities of perseverance and grit lie above that bar. In fact, students who routinely struggle in school often have a lot more practice and therefore a lot more perseverance than gifted students who have had most things come easily in their academic career. Our gifted students are often most at risk for going through their academic career without developing any real sort of perseverance.

STEAM Makerspace - Prosthetic Hand

So if our schools aren’t able to give our kids the time to practice perseverance, when are they getting it? Before school? After school? Hopefully!

At Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead we have put teaching perseverance at the core of our mission, and here’s how:
In addition to our enrichment classes which give kids extended amounts of time to work on projects they love, we have also developed what we’re calling our Renaissance System (™). This system is a series of challenges and badges that kids can earn in various skills ranging from Minecraft, 3D Printing, Piano, Jump Rope, and even Juggling. Each skill has 3 badges, a silver, a gold, and a legendary badge. These badges are structured so that the silver is a challenge, but attainable to just about everyone. The gold challenges require some more advanced knowledge and definitely some practice or perseverance. Kids who consider themselves “really good” at something will often still have to work to accomplish these tasks. Our legendary challenges are what separates the dedicated from the experienced. These challenges are designed to push our students’ perseverance to the limit. They require advanced knowledge, practice, patience, and persistence.

All of these challenges are designed to give the experience of failing, rebounding, and then overcoming. This is core to the experience of perseverance. And before you ask, “aren’t we just setting students up to fail?” No way! Well sort of no way. Ok, we are, but it’s in a controlled, pressure-free environment designed to teach them to overcome failure. First of all, none of these challenges are mandatory–every one of them is a student’s choice any day they attend. Also, by attempting these high interest challenges in areas they are already comfortable with, they are setting themselves up for future success. There is nothing attached to these challenges except positive reinforcement through “STEAM Cents” and a whole bunch of excitement from teachers and peers. Having the practice of failing, rebounding, and overcoming in a low pressure situation will prepare them for when it counts, and they eventually do stumble on something more important (though what could be more important than designing a Minecraft server with command blocks?).

The beauty of the Renaissance System doesn’t stop there. Once kids have felt the success of accomplishing challenging tasks in skills they were already comfortable with, that feeling becomes contagious. It gives them the confidence and the motivation to try out some new skills. Knowing that the silver badge is always within reach, it gives kids an excuse to try something new. Our daily enrichment classes support the badges and teach kids how to accomplish these goals, but it’s critical that students can earn the badges on their own.

It has often been said that success begets success. However, without the opportunity to feel success in areas that the kids are passionate about, and without the guidelines to determine what success might look like, and without the support from knowledgeable teachers who believe in them, too many kids either never start to feel that success or become complacent in their perception that success is equivalent to easy.

From day 1 at Full STEAM Ahead, we let the kids know that while they are going to have fun, we are also going to be presenting them with some big time challenges! We let them know that we will support them, teach them, believe in them, but ultimately we want them to accomplish these things on their own. We emphasize that our challenges are not meant to be easy. They are challenges! They will require hard work, and they probably won’t succeed your first few tries. These expectations help kids deal with potential failures and prepare for real perseverance.

The highlight of my day comes around 6:00pm each day once the parents start to pick up their students. One could be forgiven for thinking that’s because I soon get to go home, eat dinner, and be with my family. However, what happens at 6:00pm is magical for a different reason. When the parents arrive, almost every one of our students does everything they can to beg, implore, bargain, and plead for more time. They want to keep working. They aren’t ready to throw in the towel for the day. All while I sit back and watch with a big smile on my face. Once the gears are in motion, nothing can slow them down. That, to me, is the personification of perseverance.

Continue Reading

DIY Battle of the Bands – WOW! What An Event

First, a quick recap of our winners:

Elementary –
1st place- Smarty Stars from Full STEAM Ahead (you go girls!!!)
2nd place – Science Stars from Heights Elementary
3rd place – STEM Cats 1 from Six Mile Charter Academy
Middle –
1st place – M.A.S.T. from Murdock Middle
2nd place – Nerd Squad from Oasis Middle
3rd place – Nerd Herd from Oasis Middle
High –
1st place – BV Gold from Bishop Verot
2nd place – BV Vikings from Bishop Verot
3rd place – The Conductors from Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead

If the title didn’t emphasize it adequately, allow me to reiterate: WOW! What an event! The level of ingenuity, creativity, and craftsmanship on display from the group of young musicians and engineers from across SWFL was truly spectacular. The varied solutions we saw to the millenium-old problem of how to design a great musical instrument were a perfect mix of ingenious, beautifully simple, and hysterical. All in attendance were clearly impressed by the instruments and performances crafted by the students, and for good reason!

There were the obvious crowd favorites like the BV Gold team that not only dressed the part for their rendition of “In the Jungle”, but also had a homemade steel drum fashioned from an old propane tank that sounded like it was professionally made. There was the PVC flute from that got the crowd up our of their seats and closer to the stage to see what was making such a beautiful sound. And then there was the instrument too big for even a single adult to move, requiring an entire team to move the 7ft tall pine teepees that held the hanging glass bottles in place. These were just a few of the inspired and uniquely designed instruments on display at the first ever BIY Battle of the Bands, and that’s not even addressing the performances.

While there was always something to see at the BotB, the main stage was the focal point of most people’s attention, and the performances stole the show. BV Vikings regaled us with a stellar rendition of “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid down to the costumes and even a fishbowl. We have had an entire dance crew Whip and Nae Nae their way into the crowds hearts. A light saber battle, a boot stompin’ good time, and some Harry Potter sorcery all broke out on stage, keeping the crowd engaged and in awe. We can’t wait to see what happens next year!

Continue Reading

STEAM Opportunities For All

Any time a new session starts, we welcome a mix of friendly and familiar faces alongside new and enthusiastic faces into our classrooms. In our first week back in the new year, we were absolutely blessed to welcome a bunch of new students, a significant number of which came from very diverse backgrounds.

First was Matvey, a bright and curious 7 year old boy whose family recently moved to the states from Russia. While students that speak primary languages other than English is far from rare in Southwest Florida, having a student that speaks Russian–and only Russian, can present certain challenges. However, armed with Google Translate, the universal language of curiosity, and a healthy dose of enthusiasm, Matvey didn’t just participate, he excelled in our robotics challenges and 3D modeling challenges. In spite of having just moved to a new country, not knowing the language, not knowing anybody in the class, the teacher, or having ever used LEGO Mindstorms before, there was Matvey beaming with excitement as he worked with his English-speaking partner, building, testing, and programming his robot to complete an obstacle course. As I watched the boys learn how to communicate with each other and their newly built robot, I couldn’t help but be filled with pride.

If Matvey was the only confirmation that Full STEAM Ahead was doing great things, that would have been enough. But then, there were 46 more. They filed off the school bus a touch confused, and glared strangely at Hilary and me as we introduced ourselves, which is fair enough–we’re a bit strange. The kids, ranging from Kindergarten to 5th grade, are part of a phenomenal outreach program put together by Sports Club to give a group underprivileged students from Poinciana Elementary extra opportunities for high-quality after school care and enrichment. When Sports Club mentioned to us that we could be a part of this amazing opportunity to give these kids much needed STEAM opportunities, we didn’t even stop to think about it. We were in.

So here they were. 46 of them in total from varied backgrounds, but sharing one thing in common: after school enrichment had never really been an option for them before. Most were bilingual in Spanish and English, and all had some idea, but not a complete idea, about what they were here to do. We split the groups up into younger kids and older kids, and half went to play sports while the other half came with us. After the first half, we welcomed the second half who were no less enthusiastic and we got to do it all again. We brought them up the stairs to our makerspace and music classroom, and for the first time as a direct result of something we did, we saw smiles creep across their faces. The pianos, the guitars, the drums came into view first, and we started hearing some whispers and “woahs”. Half the group continued into the makerspace to see robots, computers, wires everywhere, and strange machines printing what looked like toys. The smiles spread wider, and I knew that this was going to be an incredible experience for all of us.

Our first lesson was short because of some first day procedural business. We taught them some piano and programmed Ozobots to play a simple game. But by the end of it, the smiles had erupted into laughter, curiosity, fun, and a million questions. They already couldn’t wait to come back next week, and we can’t wait to have them back.

Early on, we made it our mission to reach all populations of students with Full STEAM Ahead–not just those that could regularly afford after school enrichment. It isn’t always easy. As small business owners and teachers, we have to balance our need for capital to keep ourselves and our business afloat with our goals of making a profound difference in the lives of as many students as we can reach. However, when opportunities arrive to help those that need it most, we will always jump on them. Hilary and I are immensely grateful for the opportunity provided through the work of Sports Club and the kids, families, teachers, and counselors from Poinciana Elementary, and can’t wait to continue the program!

Continue Reading

For the loveDemoOf learning