DIVAS for Social Justice’s STEAM for Social Change is a profiled program in the Plugging In Report.
Who is served: Underserved K–12 students in Brooklyn and Southeast Queens
Number of participants: 250
Location: After-school: P.S 156, Laurelton (K–5), The Linden SDA School, Laurelton (Private; PreK–8), The Trey Whitfield School, East New York (Private; PreK–8). Camp: Brooklyn Public Library, Macon Branch
Frequency/Duration: After-school programs: 5 sessions/total of 15–20 hours per week, September–June Camp: 3–6-weeks, 9 hours per day
Eligibility Criteria: None Curriculum: After-school and camp program curricula typically center on a yearly community social justice issue, such as gentrification or food access’. Students apply the skills they’ve learned in the fall (or at the start of camp) through a social output project at the end of the program.
Summer campers have learned how gentrification is shaping Bed-Stuy through various STEM-based activities, such as 3D-printing brownstones, and using Google SketchUp 3D software to learn about engineering and design. In other programs, students have worked with a community organizer to create an interactive food justice map of Bed-Stuy, which required interviewing urban growers and mapping areas where healthy food is growing around the neighborhood.
Skills taught include digital media, robotics, animation.
Outcomes: Students can join the organization’s other programs: 2 programs focused on media and digital photography, and a newly launched virtual reality mentorship program for high school students at DIVA’s new social justice makerspace, Forward, in Bed-Stuy. Forward offers the community use of tools such as computers, sewing machines, VR/AR equipment, 3D printers, videography/photography tools, with an eye toward addressing local social problems, including gentrification, affordable housing and health disparities.
After-school and summer programs include field trips to Hunter College film and media lab.
Partnerships: NYU, Julia Robinson Math Festival
Sources of funding: Mixed (DYCD funding for middle school after school programs; Dept. of Cultural Affairs)
What makes the program stand out? Few programs integrate community-level social justice issues, which DIVAS centers around. “We want our work to be community solution-based and for [participants] to actually see themselves as being the future leaders of their communities,” said founder Clarisa James. Founded in 2011, the organization initially set out to “change the narrative of who was dispensing stories,” by training young girls in digital media and IT skills, according to founder James. DIVAS later expanded to include boys and incorporate robotics, 3D printing and other tech skills, because they saw a real need in the neighborhoods where they work, including Bed-Stuy, East New York and Eastern Queens.
Forward, the organization’s new social justice maker space in Bed-Stuy, is the culmination of DIVA’s efforts since 2007 to raise awareness around tech skills and how they can be applied to solve problems facing underserved communities.
What does the organization need? James insists on hiring instructors from within the community, and finding highly qualified candidates has been difficult due to funding constraints. She does the majority of employee training, but ExpandED has recently provided DIVAS instructors with professional development as well. Instructors are particularly important given that one of James’ greatest challenges has been “creating an environment where [students] think it’s OK to make mistakes,” she said. The programs are often students’ first exposure to tech skills, and many are intimidated at first.
James also wants there to be less red tape around obtaining equipment/the complicated reimbursement process that comes with some forms of city funding. Whereas the City Council Cultural After-School Adventures Program (CASA) funding that DIVAS receives for some programming is provided upfront, no reimbursement process required.
Also, she said, “There needs to be a conversation around access to Wi-Fi in public school spaces, [and] being able to make that more accessible to after-school programs. That affects outcomes too.”