For Nidia Bejar, 12, playing “Minecraft,” a popular video game, at school was a way for her to express her creativity.
That soon changed when the boys in her class bullied her for being a girl gamer.
Nidia, an eighth grader who aspires to become a mechanical engineer and attend Stanford University, felt discouraged by her male classmates.
“They were screaming at me saying, ‘Leave, you won’t help at all,’” said Nidia, a student at MAST Academy. “I quit the game because I wasn’t having fun.”
Her story was shared among her peers last Saturday at the annual Geek Squad Academy held in the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Coconut Grove. The academy aims to teach kids, ages 11 to 16, about the power of technology and the significance of being “nice” online.
“It’s important to get underprivileged children involved in technology early in life, so they can have a head start to prepare them for the future,” said Ricardo Noriega, 38, Geek Squad Academy field lieutenant. “Going forward, almost any job involves technology some way or another, and this prepares them for that.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings in the country.
More than 100 children attended the academy and were split into groups that rotated through the program’s five classes: Digital Music, 3D Printing, Circuit Breadboard, Lego Robotics and Digital Citizenship.
Katrina “Kat” Campbell, 26, a Geek Squad instructor, facilitated the Digital Citizenship class, which encouraged children to be online superheroes by standing up to cyberbullying.
“I knew I was going to reach out to younger kids, and I really wanted to explain to them the truth behind online bullying,” said Campbell, who frequently plays video games and had been bullied before. “If we stand up for each other, it won’t happen as often.”
According to stopbullying.gov, a government website dedicated to the prevention of online bullying, the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey has found that 15 percent of high school students were electronically bullied in the past year.
A well-known case involved the suicide of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick in Lakeland last year. Law enforcement investigators say Rebecca jumped or fell to her death from an abandoned cement silo on Sept. 9, 2013 — an act the Sheriff's Office and Rebecca's family have repeatedly blamed on bullying and cyberbullying by her former classmates at Crystal Lake Middle School. Two girls — 12 and 14 years old — have been charged as juveniles with third-degree stalking, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
As technology continues to embed itself within society, teaching about online ethics at a young age is key to its deterrence, said Campbell.
“We are part of the information explosion age,” said Steve Luis, the director of technology for the School of Computing and Information Sciences at Florida International University. “The moment we realize we can be more productive, we can make more money, we can be more efficient and we can develop programs to help us see those benefits.”
For Tyler Colebrooke, 14, a ninth grader from Doctors Charter School in Miami Shores, the Geek Squad Academy gave him a sense of belonging during the event.
“There are people that like what I like and that was good,” said Tyler, who wants to be a video game developer. “We crafted 3D models of a house and worked on a circuitry board.”
As the daylong program came to an end, the children were given certificates for graduating from the academy and earning the title: Junior Agent.
“You can actually see that they are learning. It’s not only the teachers teaching them, but they are teaching each other,” said Vanessa Herrero, 34, an assistant manager at the Science Museum.
“It’s empowering them to look forward to technology, and I think they are taking away a lot more from this than we may actually understand.”