STEMKidsNYC’s STEMKidsNYC is a profiled program in the Plugging In Report.
Who is served: K–5 students, with a focus on elementary school
Number of participants: 225 (includes all in-school and after school programs)
Location: 11 schools and 2 community centers in Brooklyn (Red Hook, Park Slope, Bay Ridge, Brownsville, Bushwick) and Manhattan (Washington Heights, Inwood, Harlem, Upper West Side, Midtown, Governors Island)
Frequency/Duration: After school: 2–5 sessions per week, 1–3 hours each, September–June. In school: treated as residencies (a DOE term) and are generally 1 day per week over a span of multiple weeks, based on a school’s budget allocation.
Eligibility Criteria: The organization tries to provide 2 teachers for every 15 students; schools must be able to limit the number of students in the session to maintain that ratio.
Curriculum: STEMKidsNYC teaches STEM and computer science through a hands-on, learning-by-doing approach, with an emphasis on meeting students where they are and culturally responsive teaching. Topic areas include computer science, engineering, robotics, and creative technologies (Micro:bit, Arduino, Makey Makey, virtual/augmented reality). Lessons are aligned with the CSTA K–12 CS Standards. Students build critical thinking skills by regularly answering the question of “why” they are doing a particular activity. Computational thinking is also integrated into lessons.
Outcomes: Students have the option of joining STEMKidsNYC’s STEM summer program for grades K–10.
Partnerships: The organization partners with several schools in Brooklyn and Manhattan, as well as 2 community-based organizations in Manhattan, but would rather not name them publicly.
Cost: Families sometimes pay, based on a sliding scale.
Sources of funding: Schools, families (sliding scale), STEM Kids NYC subsidizes through corporate donations it receives. No city funding.
What makes the program stand out? STEMKidsNYC puts a focus on teaching K–5 students computational and critical thinking skills. “If we don’t ask students ‘why’, if we haven’t had them take a minute to write down why [they] think it’s happening, then we aren’t helping them build their own critical thinking skills,” said founder Yvonne Thevenot, an Arthur Zankel Fellow at Columbia Teachers College, where she is researching and developing culturally responsive curriculum that utilizes a STEM interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning. She builds lessons around “how a child would like to play,” and strives to bring a tech mentality into the school day, encouraging students to be “self-directed [because] if you’re at a tech company, you need to get up and make it happen.” This is not the approach taken in most classrooms. “Tech still tends to be a separate construct to teaching and learning,” said Thevenot.
The organization’s focus on culturally relevant curricula is also uncommon among nonprofit STEM programs targeting younger students. “All teaching and learning can be modified to respond to the children in front of you,” said Thevenot. “It’s not just [students’] ethnicities; it’s people’s ideology, it’s the culture of the school,” that should help determine how a lesson is taught. Thevenot requires that her teachers find and present to students “cultural icons who reflect their culture” and who are working in STEM.
What do participants need to succeed? Thevenot said that students need to be able to attend the in- or after-school program 5 days a week, for at least 1 hour per day, but that more funding is needed to make this possible. Most schools’ budgets don’t allow for such a schedule.
What does the organization need? Funding, participation in TechNYC, and better connections/access to the DOE and CS4All so that the organization can share its culturally responsive STEM curriculum more widely.