A 10-year-old boy assembles a pile of Lego pieces together to construct his own little race car.
He then pulls out a tablet and dials some code into a computer program.
The race car responds to the software’s commands and moves slowly along the carpet before coming to an abrupt stop – it waits for further instructions.
Moments like this are an everyday experience at Stemtree, an education center recently opened at 4940 West Ray Road, Chandler.
“What we’re doing here is bringing basic science to life,” said Karen Palmieri, owner of Chandler’s Stemtree.
It’s the first Stemtree center to open in Arizona, having originated in Virginia a few years ago.
The franchise operates as an after-school program for students interested in developing their science skills outside of the classroom.
Robotics, engineering, and electronics are the main focus areas of the Stemtree curriculum, which emphasizes hands-on activities and one-on-one instruction.
Students get to simulate earthquakes, build robots, and create computer animations. The goal is to get them to subtly absorb the science knowledge through fun activities.
“I don’t think they realize they’re learning,” said Palmieri, a former teacher from Mesa.
Palmieri has always enjoyed being around children and knew education was her passion the moment she first stepped into a classroom.
“I felt like I was home, this was where I should be,” she recalled.
She had been teaching at a charter school before deciding to branch off and become a business owner.
Palmieri said she never had much time during the school day to allow her students to do science experiments. She hopes Stemtree can help fill some of the gaps public education doesn’t have the resources to fill.
Science, in particular, needs to be made more available for students, Palmieri said, as the world becomes more dependent on technology.
“In the future, they’re going to need it,” she said. “This generation, if they don’t have it they’re going to really struggle.”
Abdelghani Bellaachia, an associate professor at George Washington University, developed Stemtree in 2010 as an alternative way to stimulate the minds of young people after a long day of school.
“I created Stemtree to give students the edge they need to succeed in school, career, and beyond,” Bellaachia said in 2018.
Stemtree accommodates students of all grade levels. The center’s workshops and activities are designed only for K-8 students, but high school students can get tutoring help in biology, chemistry, and physics.
The facility can host birthday parties and day camps. The after-school program has students complete a lesson for 90 minutes and the curriculum is broken down by three levels: beginner, junior, and experienced.
“They grow at their own pace,” Palmieri said about how students move through the program.
Palmieri said Stemtree can also bring its activities to schools. It already has a partnership with Valley Christian Elementary School.
She wishes to see more facilities like Stemtree open up in the East Valley so local students can be better prepared for the future.
“We’re kind of low on the totem pole as far as education goes so something like this can really help them,” Palmieri added.