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Summer Learning Opens a World of Possibilities to Young Dreamers

by School's Out Washington | | Posted under STEM

Astronauts Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger (left) and Wendy Lawrence (right)

Astronauts Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger (left) and Wendy Lawrence (right)

SOWA has been working closely with former NASA astronaut Wendy Lawrence on our Zero Robotics program. This is a STEM summer learning program where students across Washington state get a chance to program a trio of robots located on the International Space Station. Tomorrow is the final competition for programs in Washington, when their code will actually be run *in space*!

Wendy along with another former NASA astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger understand and value the importance of STEM learning in afterschool and summer settings. We thought we’d share what our two space-faring partners had to say about the importance of this program and STEM learning in Washington.

Children across our state dream of a bright future – some dream of being scientists or doctors, others engineers. Many dream of being astronauts. While we all know that our childhood ambitions wax and wane over time, for too many children in Washington, they disappear because opportunities to turn those dreams into lifelong passions and careers are absent or out of reach.

According to the Office of the Governor, 47,000 jobs in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field will go unfilled by 2017. Despite being the home of global STEM innovators and employers such as Microsoft, Boeing, Blue Origin, and a host of tech start-ups spanning every imaginable area, Washington’s workforce continues to fall behind in STEM.

Especially for low-income children, children of color, girls, and children living in rural areas of our state, innovative strategies are needed to engage these populations. Moreover, providing opportunities to incite passion and excitement around STEM is crucial for helping to make dreams a reality and maintaining Washington as a thriving economic hub and STEM center.

While we must focus on providing high-quality STEM education during the school day, ensuring access to STEM programming and opportunities outside of the classroom holds valor and importance as well, especially in reaching populations of children with limited access to the often expensive and therefore out of reach STEM afterschool and summer programs.

As we enjoy the last days of summer and start to prepare and think about heading back to school, it’s critical to acknowledge the key role of afterschool and summer in supporting STEM learning and engagement.  The hours youth spend in afterschool and summer programs provide experiential, hands-on learning that looks different and enhances what happens during the school year creating lasting, fun memories for all.

Organizations are stepping up to address this issue by offering low-cost programs that increase access to more children, but without public support they are only Band-Aid solutions.

In our careers, we have experienced firsthand the ambition, drive, and perseverance it takes to succeed and have our childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut come true. But we also know that fulfilling your dream becomes much more difficult if you don’t truly believe that this is a career that is open and available to you.

This summer, in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NASA, and School’s Out Washington, we are helping dreams come true for middle school students across Washington State.  Zero Robotics, a free program in its first year in Washington State, will serve students in predominately low-income communities in King County by engaging them in a five week program learning how to write code for three small, free-flying satellites aboard the International Space Station. On August 12th, they will compete with their peers from across the country in a final competition at the Museum of Flight refereed live from space.

Youth are not just learning how to code – they are learning about physics and teamwork, and how to learn from mistakes to make a better product.  They have the unique opportunity to explore space in ways they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, and of most value to us, they are able to see themselves in a career field they may never have thought was possible for them.

Making more expanded learning opportunities afterschool and in summer like Zero Robotics accessible to more youth from low-income and diverse backgrounds is crucial to fostering thriving communities across our state and nation that allow all youth to pursue their dreams and contribute to a healthy and vibrant society.  Let’s build more opportunities that open the door for Washington’s children to not only have dreams, but to achieve them as well.

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