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Leveling the Playing Field: KEEP Helps Imaginarium Achieve its Mission to Make STEM Accessible

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The Kansas Education Enrichment Program (KEEP) provides $1,000 awards to a student’s parent or guardian for various enrichment and educational activities, such as school supplies, tutoring, music lessons, and academic services. One key aspect of KEEP involves recruiting local Qualified Education Service Providers (QESPs) to participate in these programs so eligible families can access the resources they deserve.  

One example of a QESP that KEEP has recruited to help families secure educational resources is Imaginarium. Imaginarium is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education to area youth. The local nonprofit is crucial in enriching the community through afterschool programs, summer camps, and other activities focused on coding, video game design, sewing, robotics, 3D printing, etc.

At the core of Imaginarium's mission is reducing barriers to STEM education, especially financial ones. When Melanie Curtis, one of the organization’s co-founders, heard about KEEP, she jumped at the opportunity to become a KEEP Qualified Education Service Provider (QESP). By doing so, they have made it easier for families to afford these enriching educational opportunities. Melanie emphasized the initiative's importance: "KEEP and programs like it are important to sustain educational opportunities for those with financial limitations; it helps level the playing field."

She also shared how the program has positively influenced their operations and the broader community. "We have had a tremendously positive response. The number of people wanting our services and registering for summer camps is HUGE.” The influx of students, enabled by KEEP, has undoubtedly boosted enrollments and participation in their programs. “Every week is full, and many are using their KEEP funds for that,” she added.

The positive response from the community illuminates the critical role of KEEP in ensuring that financial constraints do not hinder educational growth. Many parents have expressed their hopes for the program's continuation, recognizing the progress their children have made thanks to these opportunities, with some even writing to their representatives to continue the program past its initial funding. "So many parents have asked if the program would continue. This is very important to our families. Parents can see how their kids have progressed, but many simply don’t have the money to continue," Melanie noted.

The Kansas Education Enrichment Program has been a game-changer for Imaginarium and the Emporia community. By reducing financial barriers and making STEM education accessible to more families, KEEP has increased Imaginarium enrollment and provided students with invaluable educational experiences. Such programs' continued support and expansion are vital for sustaining educational equity and instilling a brighter future for all students.

 As Melanie aptly put it, "Kids get the opportunity to enjoy these educational experiences. That can only make our community and state better."

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