Two dozen children, ages 7 to 9, all clapped their hands together on command. They were told to rub their hands together.

“Faster! Faster! Faster! Fast as you can,” shouted Sundiata “Sunji” Jangha, a STEM NOLA educator and the director of the Upward Bound Math and Science Center at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. “What happens?”

“They’re hot!” one girl answered.

The youth, all residents of District of Columbia Housing Authority communities, were learning about friction at SpringFest, DCHA’s spring break program that featured education and sports during the week of March 26. Each day from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. many of the young people participated in STEM activities provided by STEM NOLA educators, part of the Center for the Innovative Training in Youth. The center’s goal is to create STEM cities for the innovative training of youth and the spring session with DCHA youth is the first step in creating STEM DC.

The program and center is an organization founded by New Orleans native, and former tenured Tulane University Engineering professor, Dr. Calvin Mackie. The purpose of its existence is to expose, inspire and engage members in the surrounding, and often underserved, communities about the opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

“We develop STEM modules that align with economic viability of communities. The STEM is culturally and environmentally relevant. We deliver STEM to the kids where they are. We don’t have to remove the kids from their communities to give them a high quality program. And our ultimate goal is to develop the people in the community to deliver this STEM program and these activities to their community. The community must own this,” Mackie said.

To make the activities relevant, the modules use everyday issues that the youth are aware of. For example, at Monday’s session, the youth dissected sheep hearts and learned about circulation after discussing heart attacks and other heart health challenges they have dealt with in their community. After a discussion on asthma, they dissect sheep lungs in another session.

“Our model is different. We use vertical mentoring,” Mackie said. “Therefore, we surround [grade] K through 12 kids with college kids. Then we surround college kids with STEM professionals. Any time we are delivering services, they can see themselves in the next level and the next decade.”

The sessions at SpringFest, held at the community building in Capitol Riverfront, were divided by age. The younger children learned about friction and drag while the older class participated in dissections, built replica hearts,  or raced cars they made. Often, whatever was created could be taken home with the youth.

“DCHA wants to help prepare our youth to become the future innovators, scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and even video game designers of tomorrow,” said DCHA Executive Director Tyrone Garrett. “I want to continue bringing quality programs, like STEM NOVA (Nola) , that spark their creativity and natural curiosity to our young people.”

The hands-on experiments, from racing toy cars down a ramp featuring different materials to building a robot, incorporate all aspects of STEM curriculum. The volunteers and educators work with each youth to ensure everyone is learning—and also having fun. Each lesson also tries to provide real life examples of how what kids are learning in classrooms is used in the modern world.

“What is particularly exciting when you are working in communities is that it shows our children, as a collective group, have a thirst for things that are credible and engaging. We have to make sure we are intentionally consistent with things that are credible and engaging,” Mackie said. “We are showing credible STEM programming to kids where they all respond the same way. They are all natural scientists. They all have a natural inquiry into the way things work.”


Last modified: 4/25/2018 4:52:37 PM