MAKING A DIFFERENCE: STEAM:Coders provides opportunities for at-risk students


LOS ANGELES — Not all schools in Los Angeles are created equal.

Raymond Ealy noticed that was true when it came to low-income, underrepresented students learning about science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM). So he decided to change that.

In July 2014, Ealy launched STEAM:Coders in Pasadena to provide STEAM learning opportunities for kindergarten to 12th-grade students with limited access to technology.

“We work with students in Inglewood, South L.A., Long Beach, Pasadena and others … and we collaborate with colleges and school districts … with a focus on Title 1 schools,” said Ealy, founder and executive director of the nonprofit.

Since its inception, the organization has served more than 3,000 students in its after-school, weekend and weekly summer-camp classes teaching them skills they can apply to any field they choose to go into.

“We teach students logic, critical thinking and problem solving,” Ealy said. “We have to build a pipeline for students to not only get them ready for [STEAM] fields, but to give them the opportunity to see those areas.”

Its numerous partnerships with corporate, academic and nonprofit entities has allowed STEAM:Coders’ students to visit places where they can see technology in action and get involved. Field trips include locations like Google L.A., the California Science Center, Art Center College of Design, Apple, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology.

These field trips are a way for underserved students to see that with the right skills, they can find a place for themselves in those places, Ealy said.

“When we take kids to Caltech, many of them have never been to a college campus before,” he said. “And many of their parents have never been to a college campus, either. So when we take them to a university, it plants a seed that they can go to college too, and hopefully inspires them to attend.”

Raymond Ealy

But before students get to college, the nonprofit tries to implant a different seed in them: the seed of imagination.

Many Title 1 schools don’t have a computer science curriculum, let alone a computer lab, Ealy said. Many of the same schools, he continued, no longer offer students art or music classes, which restricts their imaginations.

So STEAM:Coders tries to remedy that disadvantage by equipping them with “tools, training, teaching and coaching to get them exposed” to both the arts and classes that teach them subjects like computer science.

Offering introductory, intermediate and advanced STEAM courses, students are taught hands-on by staff and volunteers, many who are college students or professionals who teach the weekend classes.

Among the classes being taught this year are “Building Apps and Games using JavaScript” for fourth to eighth-grade students and an “Introduction to Coding” for students from second to fifth grade.

With these opportunities, Ealy believes that kids are learning invaluable skills and getting the hard-core support they need to rise above their circumstances.

And sometimes that support manifests itself into the form of a laptop. Made possible by its partnership with Warner Brothers, the nonprofit recently gave away more than 40 laptops to students. Getting equipment like that into the hands of kids who need it most was a very proud moment for the organization.

As for the next several years, Ealy hopes to support more students in places outside of California.

“We know there’s lots of talent out there, students just need the opportunity to show it,” he said.

INFORMATION BOX

Executive Director/Founder: Raymond Ealy

Years in operation: 4

Annual budget: $290,000

Number of employees: about 20

Location: PO Box 90213, Pasadena, 91109

 

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