This is a guest blog from By Damon A. Williams, Ph.D., senior vice president and chief education & youth development officer, Boys & Girls Clubs of America
Several weeks ago, Eddie Cuba, 11, met President Obama at the White House Science Fair in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as one of the million kids who have been inspired by STEM through the Connect a Million Minds (CAMM) initiative. Thanks to this initiative, Eddie had the opportunity to join a new program at Boys & Girls Club
of Paterson & Passaic called Do-It-Yourself (DIY) STEM because he really enjoys learning science in a different environment after school, making rockets and light bulbs with friends. Since Eddie started the DIY STEM program, his grades have improved, and he wants to go to college and keep studying science because he thinks STEM is fun.
Eddie, Jayda and Rob Marcus at the White House Science Fair; Photo: BGCA
Like many young people, Eddie came alive and was inspired by STEM when given the right opportunity for expanded learning outside the school day. STEM education is critical to the future success of our young people as most of the fastest-growing jobs will require some education in science, technology, engineering and math. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 9.2 million jobs in STEM fields by 2020. Young people entering the workforce need more skills than they did decades ago—the ability to think critically and problem solve, leverage quantitative information and develop creative solutions both in teams and as individuals.
Eddie, Jayda and Bill Nye the Science Guy at the White House Science Fair; Photo: BGCA
Unfortunately, there is a shortage of both interested and adequately prepared K-12 students in STEM subjects, especially among minority youth and young women. Gaps in science and math educational achievement for African American, Latino and Native American students start as early as the fourth grade. Additionally, despite a steady increase over the past 20 years, only 15 percent of female high school students express an interest in STEM fields, as compared to 40 percent of male high school students. The opportunity gap in STEM education is likely to widen unless organizations develop pathways for more underrepresented youth to succeed in STEM careers.
How do we prepare America’s young people, particularly underrepresented youth, for a successful post-secondary education and a 21st century career? One way is through out-of-school time. The out-of-school environment—after school and summer—plays a critical and often overlooked role in helping young people develop needed skills and competencies. Out-of-school providers like Boys & Girls Clubs have an opportunity and responsibility to help more young people develop a passion and an aptitude in STEM—as many kids mistake a lack of foundational knowledge for a lack of talent or ability.
By introducing youth to hands-on, discovery-based STEM learning opportunities, out-of-school providers are teaching kids how to make technology through design thinking—rather than just consuming technology. This education is invaluable because there is a skills divide between young people who simply consume data as entertainment and kids who can apply data analytically and creatively.
Research shows that the out-of-school environment advances STEM learning and increases interest in STEM-related careers, particularly among underrepresented youth. In fact, African American, Asian American and Latino households are most likely to participate in out-of-school STEM programs (Change the Equation). As a complement to the school day, out-of-school programs also provide opportunities for trial-and-error beyond the school environment—a safe place to fail—while teaching critical 21st century skills like problem solving and perseverance, which are needed in STEM careers.
Out-of-school providers cannot inspire the next generation in STEM alone. To lessen the opportunity gap in STEM education and prepare America’s young people for great futures, we must develop strategic partnerships to increase STEM interest. Serving as the backbone organization, out-of-school providers can connect like-minded schools/universities, businesses and government entities to build capacity and support for innovative STEM programs.
For example, Boys & Girls Clubs of America recently partnered with Time Warner Cable to help address America’s declining proficiency in STEM by, together, launching the DIY STEM program for Clubs across the country. Aligned with Time Warner Cable’s commitment to connect young people to the wonders of STEM, this curriculum engages Club youth ages 10 to 18 in the “science of every day,” focusing on energy and electricity, engineering design, and food chemistry, to provide out-of-school opportunities for critical thinking and peer exchange.
Out-of-school programs like DIY STEM are often the first time where underrepresented youth are given the opportunity to learn STEM in fun and motivating ways. These programs provide project-based learning opportunities that address real-world challenges and encourage innovative solutions, and these experiences can be life changing. According to Eddie, “I truly believe that learning science will help kids change the world.”
Few issues are more important to the future of our nation as STEM education. Through strategic partnerships, I hope that more out-of-school STEM programs will be offered to underrepresented youth as a supplement to school, so they develop the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the 21st century workplace. Furthermore, if America is going to remain a global leader, a new, more diverse workforce of problem-solvers, innovators and inventors will be necessary to drive our nation’s economy.
Damon A. Williams, Ph.D. is senior vice president and chief education & youth development officer for Boys & Girls Clubs of America, whose more than 4,100 Clubs serve nearly 4 million young people through membership and community outreach. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every afternoon in America when the 3:00 p.m. school bell rings, 58 million kids leave school and 15 MILLION have no place to go. They risk being unsupervised, unguided and unsafe.
On July 31 in New York City, Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) will publically launch their Great Futures Campaign
, an unprecedented marketing, fundraising and impact initiative that serves to redefine the opportunity equation: School + Out-of-School = Great Futures.
Help them out by making a post using #GreatFutures and link to GreatFutures.org!
Here's a sample tweet:
When the school bell rings 15 MM kids have no place to go. Join us and @BGCA_Clubs to support #GreatFutures for kids at GreatFutures.org
That is why BGCA will launch their #GreatFuture campaign on July 31st at 3:00 PM EST for the Bell Heard 'Round the Web!