Another Rose Grows in Harlem
It’s said that it takes a village to raise and educate a child. In the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan (NY), an entire community came together in 2013 to nourish the growth of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education by introducing FIRST to 6-9 year-olds in the form of the first-ever Junior FIRST LEGO League (Jr.FLL) team there.
“In our group, we also have kids who have never touched a LEGO® piece before in their life, kids who come from impoverished homes,” says April Patrick, one of the team’s founders. “We also have middle class kids, so it’s a real mix of learning backgrounds.”
Patrick and the other adult Volunteers who formed the team have completed their seven-week learning cycle and have made a promising dent in an under represented, disadvantaged STEM community. The project has also attracted a number of neighborhood STEAM professionals (the added “A” for art) who are helping expose youngsters to a new world of learning possibilities.
Several world-class STEM professionals have even volunteered as team Coaches/Mentors, including Jake Barton, a prestigious interactive designer and Ted Talks speaker, whose latest work includes the World Trade Center Memorial Exhibit, and Taofeek Rabiu, a senior technology manager and software engineer from AOL networks. In addition, the new team has received hands-on support from the likes of Dr. Stanley Davis, one of a select few black doctors of Astrophysics, and Dr. Ronah Harris, a former NYC Public School STEM educator and producer for Sesame Street Television
“We just hosted an event at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Center in Harlem to introduce our very first Jr.FLL team in the community, and to showcase our work. As a result, we have a growing wait-list for next year,” boasted Patrick.
The community’s enthusiasm for STEM learning and FIRST programs is infectious. Every week, new kids who aren't even signed up for the Jr.FLL program show up with their parents, just to come and play with the group, expanding the team’s outreach. Patrick and the many Volunteers are looking forward to expanding next year into other FIRST programs for older kids, offered at cost so that everyone who wants to can participate, regardless of their background or income. “Our growth,” added Patrick, “will come by fostering relationships with a number of critical communal and not-for-profit organizations that serve our population.”