“aSTEAM Village was preparing to take 110 students to San Antonio, Texas, to the 46th annual National Society of Black Engineers convention. Then it was canceled due to COVID."
“In the beginning of March, aSTEAM Village was preparing to take 110 students to San Antonio, Texas, to the 46th annual National Society of Black Engineers convention, where the students were going to compete in robotics, math and engineering competitions against all of the other student NSBE chapters across the country. The prize was the right to advance to the national championships of the respective competitions. These kids had been preparing for this since September 2019. They were really excited because they love the experience of the annual convention, the intense competition, the college & career fair and of course, the opportunity to travel to another city. Then it was canceled due to COVID.
And, because of COVID, we had to close aSTEAM Village, which provides a wide range of STEM/STEAM education and career readiness programs for students who are in grades 1st through 12th. It was heartbreaking. So not only did they not get to do a trip and go to a competition we've been doing for the past six years, everything else stopped too.
We quickly pivoted to start preparing for a first-time ever virtual summer camp for students in grades 4th through 12th. It was eight weeks long and believe it or not, our summer camp was pretty successful. 60 students participated. They built video games, Arduino boards, desk lamps, printing presses, headphones, explored youth entrepreneurship, financial literacy and programming with their Raspberry Pi’s they received for attending camp. All working virtually. We had parents who tweeted about how great and how engaged their kids were. Because we were virtual, we were able to have college students from Florida A&M University, Harris-Stowe State University, and Missouri Western be camp leaders, as well as some of our high school students with many years in our aSTEAM program. We also were able to do a cultural exchange because we had 10 students participate from a new NSBE chapter in Accra, Ghana. So, we were able to actually raise the bar by doing the summer program virtually.
The virtual format was so successful that we built an online aSTEAM Virtual Academy, available online to anyone for free. It has K-12 education programming and lesson plans, computer programming, literacy games, aviation classes with aviation simulators and so much more. It is a great resource, particularly, for students who want to move ahead of their class or need to shore up on topics so they can achieve mastery of any given subject.
The content is written mostly to a fifth to sixth grade level. We find that many of our students who come to us as eighth graders have gaps in their proficiency, so one of the major benefits of the Virtual Academy is that students can start at lower grade levels in the subjects and build up from there.
One of the fundamental beliefs here at aSTEAM Village is to meet the students where they are and help them get up to grade level. We want to be able to take that kid and say hey look, we want to be able to teach you how to do game design computer programming, but we need to get these fundamentals up first. With Virtual Academy, they can go back to third grade, take all of those lessons to get to fourth grade, etc.
We help them work their way through their weakness. If it's a talent issue, that’s okay because everyone has their strengths, which is why teamwork is important. Your talent may be strong in row one, somebody else's talent may be strong in row two, you put them together, you have two rows that are working together in concert.
So many kids let an “F” or a “D” define them. Overcoming failures is a part of life, so if you do not understand overcoming failures and it's ingrained in you that F is who you are, a failure, it doesn’t help you as a person and it doesn’t help society. We at aSTEAM Village are doing our little bit to make a difference. That’s why the aSTEAM Virtual Academy is for everyone. And we owe its existence to COVID. Definitely a silver lining.”
-- William, aSTEAM Village (October 2020)