Sisters E S.T.E.A.M. Program

Dear Mirror,

Straight or Curly? Why won’t this frizzy hair go away? I want to wear lipstick but what color is right for me? I put on deodorant every morning, but I’m still a sweaty mess by noon. No one understands my dilemmas and my reputation is everything.


The Middle School Girl


As we reflect on being 13 or 14 years of age, it was hard to conceptualize what was happening in the real world around you. People may have called us self-centered and self-absorbed as adolescents, but was that really the case? As much as you tried to get though Mr. Rawson’s science class, nothing fully made sense because you were focused primarily on you. In those hallmark years, it is important to understand the trials of being an adolescent and using that as a positive addition to the learning environment.

Sisters e S.T.E.A.M. is an afterschool program focused on empowering 7th and 8th grade girls in STEAM education. Children are born as naturally inquisitive; inquiring about the worlds intriguing phenomena around them. Then boom! After the 4th grade something goes wrong. Science now resembles the reading and writing class and labs are completed “if we have time.” This combined with a student’s natural focus on their image, their peers, and where they fit in the world completely brings that natural inquisitiveness to a halt. Research has showed by the time the middle school girl reaches the 9th grade, they have completely checked out of science.

Sisters e S.T.E.A.M. is an inquiry-based hands on science program for young women that exposes them to STEAM content that promotes personal and academic learning. Designed primarily for African American females and females situated in poverty, Sisters e S.T.E.A.M. provides a culturally-relevant science curriculum that transforms the way that girls understand and approach the STEAM careers.


Primarily delivered as an after-school program in Woodland Hills and through popup programs throughout Allegheny County, Sisters e S.T.E.A.M. utilizes real world applications to connect girls to science content that is aligned to the PA Core and the Next Generation Science Standards. Sisters e S.T.E.A.M. began as an innovative idea through Teachers Leading Change and has grown into an independent science program in its second year of operation.

Sisters e S.T.E.A.M. transforms the way that young women looks at the STEAM careers, generally introducing young women to a successful experience with science for the first time. This program is designed for young women who typically do not have the opportunity to engage in science enrichment programs. Currently, Sisters e S.T.E.A.M. is delivered through six core units. Example units are: Hair & Cosmetic Chemistry, Newton’s Laws of Motion through Dance, Ecological Biodiversity, Thoughts & Bots (Robotics), and Lights! Camera! Action! (the science of photography).

In Sisters e S.T.E.A.M., we try to match the natural interests of young females with science that is engaging and interactive. Two of the most popular lessons are focused on hair/cosmetic chemistry and learning force and motion through dance. In the hair chemistry and cosmetic chemistry lessons, students are able to study matter and its interactions as well as learn the differentiation that occurs between physical and chemical changes. Using the scientific process, this unit begins with exploring the question: “What is healthy hair, what does it look like, feel like?” The students then test many of the common hair products and they explore the impacts of byproducts, pH levels, acids, and bases. Throughout this unit, the students are also making soap, lipstick, and even designing and testing their very own deodorants.

Things also get funked up a bit as Sisters e S.T.E.A.M moves and grooves across the lab floor. When teaching the principles of force and motion and the effect of multiple forces on movement, speed, or direction of an object, what better way than to use dance? Through Move and Grove, together we collaborate with Foxtrot Dance Studio of Swissvale as we study Newton’s law of motion and gravity and how the body is able to leap, jump, push, and pull. Together we use our bodies to create simple machines and dance routines.

Sisters e S.T.E.A.M. strives to immerse young women into the STEAM fields but another important component is that we provide a peer mentoring component with the chief goal of reducing girl on girl disruptions throughout the day. The peer mentoring or “e S.T.E.A.M (esteem)” part of Sisters e S.T.E.A.M is delivered through targeted lessons, peer support, & team competitions. In this two-pronged approach to supporting young women, we look at the issues that are of upmost concern to them and use program variables to provide opportunities to learn and grow as a team and as an individual. In addition, this program moves them towards college and/or career readiness. Our e S.T.E.A.M. curriculum addresses the realities of STEAM careers for the young women and provides them with the requisite skills and experiences.

Editor’s Note: Venneasha Davis is a 5th/6th grade science teacher at Woodland Hills Academy in Pittsburgh, PA. We learned about the innovative program she started and asked her to write about it for Headline Discoveries. If you have ideas for articles or want to tell us about innovative programs and lessons in your schools, please email