Beam Center’s School Program is a profiled program in the Plugging In Report.
Who is served: K–12 schools in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens that serve predominantly low-income students of color and new immigrants. Mostly middle and high schools. Majority of partner schools are Title I, and half are in the International Network for Public Schools (unscreened public schools, but only for students who’ve been in the U.S. for less than 4 years).
Number of participants: School partnerships: 6,000 (4,500 during school year and 1,500 over summer (this includes STEM Summer in The City, CareerCLUE and SYEP Younger Youth). Apprenticeships: 50 Beam Project Leaders, 70 Summer Youth Employment Older Youth job placements.
Location: Brooklyn: Brooklyn International High School, West Brooklyn Community High School, South Brooklyn Community High School, East Brooklyn Community High School, Nelson Mandela High School for Social Justice, International High School at Prospect Heights, Brooklyn School of Inquiry, M.S.442, P.S./I.S. 157 The Benjamin Franklin Health & Science Academy, M.S. 582 The Magnet School for Multimedia Technology and Urban Planning, P.S. 120, P.S. 240, P.S. 130, Urban Assembly Unison Middle School, P.S. 705, Brooklyn Frontiers. Manhattan: Manhattan International High School, Urban Assembly School for Design and Construction. Bronx: Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, Bronx International High School, South Bronx International Middle School. Queens: International High School of Health Sciences, M.S. 217 Robert A. Van Wyck, I.S. 145, P.S. 62
Frequency/Duration: Projects can last from 4 weeks to a full semester; 2–3 days per week; 90 or 180 minutes per week.
Eligibility Criteria: None, but they aim to work with schools that serve low-income, minority, and immigrant students.
Curriculum: Beam Center brings artists and engineers into public schools to help students create hands-on projects integrating design and technology. The organization is a DOE vendor authorized to provide professional development and workshops.
School partnerships can extend school-wide or involve only 1 teacher or a team of instructors across different grade levels. Each partnership begins with at least 2 days of professional development, which includes skills-building around different tech disciplines (making, digital fabrication, physical computing, programming, soft circuits), as well as collaborative planning of the project. Beam Center works with teachers to design a project that incorporates learning goals for a particular unit, or that extends beyond the classroom curriculum.
Computational thinking is emphasized, and projects often incorporate computer science and physical computing, along with crafts like woodworking and metalworking. Brooklyn International High School students, for example, used Python and Arduino to create a digital poetry machine that posts tweets based on magnetic laser-cut words. Fourth graders at Brooklyn School of Inquiry used stop-motion animation and a laser-cutter to reenact the Battle of Brooklyn. “We’re turning a classroom into a production environment,” said Matt Robinson, Beam Center’s director of school programs.
Outcomes: In addition to school programs, Beam Center offers in-house programs at its Red Hook headquarters, including an annual apprenticeship program for high school students, and workshops for 2nd through 12th graders.
Apprenticeships take a similar approach to school partnerships. They center on projects that incorporate technical skills from a variety of disciplines, from wood and metal work to web and 3D design, fabrication and multimedia production. At the same time, apprentices learn how to design and lead activities and create a club-like atmosphere during youth workshops. Apprentices “come out of that program prepared to work in [Beam’s] summer camps or after-school programs,” said Robinson. Some of those jobs are funded through SYEP.
Sources of funding: Mixed
What makes the program stand out? Beam Center has a goal of developing lasting collaborations with schools. Members of the organization’s staff of artists and engineers are often there for each classroom session, helping students and teachers prototype and roll out full projects.
Additionally, by incorporating multiple STEM and creative disciplines into a production-centered approach, Beam Center has been able to reach populations for whom “conventional schooling has become ineffective, and perhaps overly compliance-bound and not responsive to the real world as they experience it,” said Cohen. This includes students in transfer high schools, English language learners and Black and Latinx students from under-resourced neighborhoods.
What does the organization need? More capacity: they can’t always take on a school partnership at the moment when a school gets funding for it.