Benjamin Elliott, youth services librarian

Benjamin Elliott, youth services librarian, shows off his wares Tuesday at the Belgrade Community Library. The library received a $25,000 grant from Bridger Aerospace to provide STEAM programs for families.

The Belgrade Library has successfully adapted its planned summer program for STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) students into one that can be enjoyed in spite of pandemic-induced physical distancing regulations.

Library Director Gale Bacon said the library recently was awarded a $25,000 grant from Bridger Aerospace to provide STEAM-specific programs for families. A part-time coordinator was hired, and plans were in the works to provide large, family-friendly activities, including dinners with guest speakers.

“We were well on the way to putting our energy into that, and then came COVID,” Bacon said.

Unwilling to abandon the program until things returned to normal, library staff “came across the idea of take-home projects,” said Benjamin Elliott, youth services librarian.

“Family STEAM nights have been replaced with home Maker Kits with a new theme each week,” he explained.

Between 20 and 25 families per week have been participating in the STEAM projects. Students are required to check out a book related to the lesson of the week in order to be given a kit. This week, participating students are learning about the human body, with emphasis on each of the five senses. Prior lessons have included Weather/Space, with materials provided for building a barometer; Gardening; Light and Light Energy; and Engineering, featuring a Rube Goldberg-themed kit through which students could build their own machines while being exposed to the engineering, physics, gravity and motion fundamentals.

Bacon said the library also is purchasing new books and board games to tie in with the topics.

“We want it to have a learning effect on the child and raise awareness (of STEAM) for parents,” she said.

The library’s annual summer reading program  has been modified successfully to comply with distancing guidelines, and to appeal to all ages. Participants may sign up online. Adults are being offered incentives for active participation, in the form of gift cards or vouchers for symphony, opera or ballet performances.

Meanwhile, Elliott has been recording story times for children, which may be accessed on demand from home. He said he hopes to begin offering story times outdoors later this summer – details will be available on the library’s website.

Bacon said the silver lining to the pandemic has been figuring out how to reach people in new ways that are sustainable.

“We have been rethinking how we deliver services, and a lot of things we will keep after we return to normal,” she said.

In turn, the community has responded with an outpouring of appreciation in the form of notes, comments, flowers, cards and donation checks.