Two years ago, Verizon put out a call for grant applications to NYC STEM organizations to propose innovative ways to close the digital divide in the city. Eight organizations were awarded a combined total of $3 million in grant funding to expand STEM programming through unique approaches to increasing digital access and literacy.
With the Verizon funding, these organizations have rolled out STEM learning kits for students, integrated culturally diverse and competent STEM curriculum into school and afterschool programs, and purchased equipment that helps those learning STEM succeed.
HYPOTHEkids, one of the grantees, is a kindergarten through 12th grade STEM initiative with programming for different age groups. One of the ways HYPOTHEkids brings STEM education to elementary schoolers is through HYPOTHEkids Science Clubs hosted across the five boroughs at 35 sites, most of which are NYCHA community centers. The science clubs use a curated curriculum and hands-on activities to teach science to kids through themed units, each with 15 lessons.
“Hands-on science doesn’t tend to happen in low-resourced schools because it requires a lot of prep,” says Christine Kovich, the executive director of HYPOTHEkids.
The $500,000 grant made it possible for the Harlem-based organization to create and send “HYPOTHEkits” to partner community based organizations wanting to host science clubs. The kits include supplies and easy to follow curriculum on topics like astronomy, ecology, engineering, math and anatomy.
With their half a million in grant funding, the New York Public Library (NYPL) also created kits for kids learning STEM. They launched “STEAM Discovery Kits” in September of 2021, which patrons can check out through the same process as borrowing books. They can take home the discovery kits for a few weeks and can explore engineering, stargazing, computer science, building or robotics, depending on the kit.
“We were really interested in offering our patrons something that they could then take home with them,” says Ruth Isserman, a youth technology coordinator at NYPL. “They immediately flew off the shelves. We had one branch where within one day all of their kits were already checked out.”
Fourteen NYPL branches in the Bronx have the kits, which are in high demand. Smaller library systems in the country have similar kits, and the grant funding made this long time dream of the NYPL an achievable reality.
At BronxWorks, a nonprofit that helps individuals and families improve their economic and social well-being, children and youth programs serve 11,000 kids in the borough with programs ranging from literacy to creative arts, to STEM. With the $325,000 grant from Verizon, the organization bolstered its STEM programming and purchased chromebooks for afterschool kids to use.
Ursula Cooper-Hunter, the department director for children and youth services at BronxWorks, says that the focus for a lot of STEM programs during school hours is theoretical and abstract.
“We saw this as an opportunity to have them apply a lot of those theories and concepts in a hands-on way after school,” says Cooper-Hunter.
With new technology and a space to work, BronxWorks gives kids opportunities to apply and further explore lessons after the school day ends.
STEM Kids NYC also provides in school, afterschool and weekend STEM instruction to kids. The organization embraces the diversity of cultures and learning styles in NYC classrooms in its STEM programming. Classes begin with a “STEM Icon,” where students learn about a living trailblazer in STEM that reflects the primarily Black, Hispanic and Asian demographics of the classrooms where they teach.
“Each time we’re with our students, they can see for themselves that there’s evidence of people who look like them who are successful in STEM,” says Yvonne Thevenot, the founder and executive director of STEM Kids NYC.
The organization serves more than 1,200 students across its programming. The $200,000 grant allowed them to collaborate with four community based organizations located in Harlem and the Bronx, and four public schools in Harlem. Since the organization’s founding in 2015, thousands of students have gone through the programs. Two former high school students at STEM Kids NYC, now in college, are interning for the organization, bringing their STEM journey full circle.
Four other organizations also received grant funding: Phipps NY, Grand Street Settlement, CAMBA and DIVAS for Social Justice.
Phipps NY received $500,000 to give Bronx students experience with game design, coding and 3D design through a partnership with MakerState. With $450,000, Grand Street Settlement is expanding STEM education and mentorship in lower Manhattan NYCHA community centers. CAMBA, a Brooklyn organization, was awarded $400,000 to create a “CAMBA Tech Titans” program that launched in January 2021, which provides online learning and networking with science and technology professionals of color. DIVAS for Social Justice, also of Brooklyn, got a $125,000 donation to support their digital literacy programs and plans to create a social justice makerspace.
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