Lighting a STEM Spark at Westlake Elementary

It’s after school at Westlake, one of 11 elementary schools in the MSD of Wayne Township. While many of their classmates have already gone home for the day, more than a dozen of Westlake’s third and fourth graders are gathered in computer science teacher Susan Stallsworth’s classroom. They are testing small robots they have outfitted and programmed to pick up various objects, including colorful plastic eggs. They have not stopped learning for the day.

“When I asked students what they were interested in, space was always the common denominator,” said Mrs. Stallsworth. “I found a 4-H kit that dealt with space and figured out how to combine it with the Dash Robot.”

Mrs. Stallsworth is head of Westlake’s new 4-H SPARK Club, organized in collaboration with the Wayne Township 4-H Program and Wayne Township Education Foundation’s Joseph Sweeney Memorial Fund. SPARK Clubs are open to students in grades 3-12 to “spark” new interest in the Indiana 4-H Program. They are designed to focus on “out of the box” interests that are likely different from state-recognized 4-H projects. Mrs. Stallsworth’s club focuses not only on robotics, but on space exploration as well.

Westlake’s 4-H SPARK club is funded by the Wayne Township Education Foundation’s Joseph Sweeney Memorial 4-H Fund. Joseph, a 10-year member of Marion County and Wayne Township 4-H, passed away at age 26 in December 2020. The fund endowed in his name helps establish STEM experiences in Wayne Township through 4-H Spark Clubs.

“By funding SPARK clubs, we knew we could reach a lot of kids,” said Alice Sweeney, Joseph’s mother and former director of Wayne Township’s 4-H program. In the SPARK club at Westlake, she says students “have learned about space, and about computer coding, but more than that, they have learned to work as a team.”

The Joseph Sweeney Memorial 4-H Fund was created by Wayne Township’s Eddleman family, along with Google, where Joseph worked as a software engineer. Joseph was the State and National 4-H Electric Challenge winner in 2010, and a four-year member of the State 4-H Band. His experiences in the computer and electric projects helped influence his decision to study computer engineering at Purdue University.

“Joseph had a very analytical mind,” Alice said. “He was a problem solver. His father is also an engineer, and encouraged problem solving skills. Joseph was very strong in math and the physical sciences. When it was time to select a college major, his dad highly encouraged computer engineering as opposed to computer science, so that his analytical and problem solving skills would become even more developed.”

Alice says Joseph would have loved the type of opportunity Westlake’s SPARK club members are enjoying. The students have learned to program small devices called Dash Robots. Students can prompt these small, pale blue devices to perform a multitude of tasks, from navigating objects to dancing and singing.

“Dash connects to the students’ Chromebooks, and students have access to program the robot and even add their own voice to the bot. Dash is a great way for students to communicate and cooperate together,” said Mrs. Stallsworth.

“You get to code Dash, and then it’s fun when you watch him move around,” said fourth grader Jaice Walker, sitting on the floor problem solving with teammates Grayson Slama and Aaron Cardoso.

The 4-H SPARK club’s students presented their work to their parents at the club’s final meeting on May 9. Their projects will also be displayed at the Wayne Township 4-H Fair June 29-30 from 5-8 p.m. at Ben Davis University High School.

Alice Sweeney hopes this is the first of many SPARK clubs the Joseph Sweeney Memorial 4-H Scholarship will fund. “These kinds of programs may just be what a young person needs to help spark an interest that could propel them into a career or lifetime hobby.”

The Wayne Township Education Foundation (WTEF) provides community leadership to enrich, engage, and stimulate teaching and learning in the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township. WTEF accomplishes this by supporting school programs and resources, while recognizing excellence among students and staff. To learn more about WTEF, call 317-988-7966, visit, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter @WayneTwpEdFound.