Counting down — “5, 4, 3, 2, 1!” — students at the Overtown Youth Center summer program launched an orange-and-blue rocket along with a summer of hands-on math and science education Wednesday.
Supported by former Miami Heat player Alonzo Mourning and aerospace company AAR, the youth center in Miami’s inner city has revamped its summer curriculum to focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The program is designed to expose students to science projects and new career paths in STEM fields.
“This partnership here is going to open up a world of opportunity for our young people,” Mourning said minutes before the rocket headed skyward.
“We always tell our kids that life has options,” he added, towering over a small music stand doubling as a lectern in a youth center classroom.
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Those options may include engineering, business or mechanics, said David Storch, chairman and CEO of AAR, an aircraft-services company with facilities in Miami. AAR donated $350,000 to fund the STEM program in Overtown.
Storch said the program is meant to provide students in Overtown with the same opportunities as those who grow up in vastly different backgrounds.
Students ages 11 to 18 will participate in the summer program. Some have just graduated from high school, like Kevin Johnson, 18, who is headed to college next year and plans to study video engineering. Others are just beginning to consider which classes they will take in high school.
Most will benefit from a glimpse into new professions, Storch said. Many of the students in Overtown, Storch added, have never seen the inside of a airplane.
“You can’t help but get excited,” Storch said, while recounting his walks through the youth center full of students who he hopes can be part of the next generation of aerospace engineers.
In the six-week program, students will be exposed to rocket launches, coding, and pulleys and levers, said Tina Brown, the center’s executive director. The students’ eight-hour days will also include literacy and academic reinforcement, she said.
While children at the youth center shot off water rockets on a sunny football field, officials at the meeting spoke grimly of this week’s shooting in Liberty City — and cautioned that educational programs like these are often the only buffer between youths and violence.
Miami City Commissioner Keon Hardemon said such programs keep Overtown “out of the headlines.”
As students collected the rockets strewn across the football field and headed inside, Mourning and a group of Miami officials watched.
“This opportunity has allowed us to raise the bar,” Mourning said.