For some families in Wilmington’s Southbridge neighborhood — an economically disadvantaged community — the costs that come with Christmas can be difficult.
But 16-year-old Jacqueline Means, who lives in Southbridge and attends the Delaware Military Academy, sees Christmas as an opportunity – the chance to make a difference for a handful of students at her old elementary school. For kids who still believe in the magic of the season and that St. Nick won’t forget them.
For the second year in a row, Means held a multi-day bake sale at her high school in the days leading up to Christmas to raise money to buy presents for kids in First Grade at the Elbert Palmer Elementary School. Thinking the $150 she raised might not be enough, Means picked up the phone and called Chemours to ask for a contribution to the toy drive. They were happy to help.
“I really wanted to give kids in my neighborhood the holiday they deserve. Living in Southbridge, it’s common to see many negative things on a daily basis. Even young children are constantly surrounded by negative influences. So I decided to do something to make their Christmas special,” said Means. “I want these kids to know that someone cares about them and wants them to be happy and safe.”
But Means had more in store for the little ones in her neighborhood. On the day she delivered the presents, the DMA sophomore stepped into the role of teacher to conduct some fun experiments and share the meaning of STEM programming in education. Means is a 4.0 student at DMA who has a knack for sharing her love of math and science.
She involved each of the first graders in three hands-on experiments: alginate worms (slimy but edible polymers), elephant toothpaste, and Bernoulli’s principle, showing the concept of air pressure.
Two years ago Means founded her own nonprofit, Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative, which allowed her to fundraise to support her own traveling science class. She specifically targets kids at community centers and elementary schools in Southbridge, where Means says 60% of teens drop out of high school.
Means now carves out time every month to share her STEM program. She hopes her passion for education ignites interest in younger kids and encourages them to stay in school.
“I’m trying to make connections, build trust and hopefully serve as a mentor, because I’m also a kid from Southbridge. I hear gunshots in my neighborhood. I’ve seen friends fall prey to drug addiction, violence, and giving up on education. I just want to do my part to make our neighborhood a little better.”
Photos by Karen Brooks