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BLOCK Fest®: Building future careers for NIU students

March 20, 2017

Colleen Russell

Colleen Russell’s graduate assistantship in the P-20 Center has allowed her to gain personal and professional skills and have lots of fun in the process. Last August, Colleen jumped at the chance to get involved with BLOCK Fest®, a new P-20 Center program.  

Today, she’s happy she did. “It’s been so rewarding and so exciting, plus it’s good for my future career,” she says.

At BLOCK Fest® events, children ages 8 months to 8 years get to play with five varieties of non-interlocking blocks. At the same time, parents receive information about how to use block play to boost their children’s understanding of early math and science concepts. 

“Getting my undergrad degree in human development, I learned how important basic math and science education is for young children,” says Russell, who is currently pursuing a master’s in school counseling. “So BLOCK Fest® was definitely appealing.”

In addition to receiving training from the P-20 Center staff in how to lead BLOCK Fest® sessions, Russell was mentored extensively in the practical side of educational programming by her P-20 supervisors Debbie Pixton and Amy Jo Clemens.

“Now I know how to develop an event proposal, how to do the research to back it up, how to coordinate publicity with school and community partners like libraries and museums, and how to work with staff at schools, libraries and museums,” she says. “Those are going to be such useful skills after I graduate and am working at a school as a counselor.”

Taking BLOCK Fest® to a school or library also requires loading and unloading an entire van full of blocks, setting up the stations, training volunteer helpers, and coaching kids and parents through the hour-long sessions.

“It’s great to see how excited the kids and parents get while playing with blocks. Knowing that we’re spreading the word about the importance of math and science is really fulfilling,” adds Russell.®

“Besides the fun at BLOCK Fest® events, the P-20 Center has helped me practice leadership and management skills that I have enjoyed learning.”

For more information about BLOCK Fest®, including how to book a BLOCK Fest® session, visit NIU STEAM Works or email Russell at [email protected]