Minority students get STEM exposure from free CodeMasters camp

Eighth grader Senai Miller putting the final touches on her robot at CodeMasters Summer Math & Robotics Camp Showcase on July 27.
Eighth grader Senai Miller putting the final touches on her robot at CodeMasters Summer Math & Robotics Camp Showcase on July 27. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

A Florida coalition of state and local educators and business people is addressing the underrepresentation of minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

This summer at four schools — Carrie P. Meek/Westview K-8 Center, North Dade Middle School, Miami Carol City Senior High School and Miami Central High School — the CodeMasters program offered free after-school and summer camp programs to teach middle and high school students coding and robotics.

“We know the way to address that underrepresentation in colleges and in graduate school is by working with students as early as we can,” said Lyra Logan, CodeMasters’ program director.

On July 27, students in the middle school robotics program had the opportunity to present their projects in a morning showcase.

One such student at the Westview K-8 Center, Daniel Scott, 13, planned to present a LEGO robot he built and programmed.

“My favorite part is when we get to go code the robots, and we build them,” Daniel said.

The Florida Education Fund, Opa-Locka Community Development Corp. and The Children’s Trust sponsored CodeMasters. The program isn’t just meant to teach students how to code, but serves as a tutoring program. Daniel, who said he wants to be an architect, found this aspect of the program helpful, too.

“The best thing that they taught me is the math they’ve given me, because I wasn’t really doing that well in math,” he said.

Daniel’s mother, Simone Scott, said the program has been an incredible opportunity for both her sons.

“It’s a minority school and that kind of stuff is not usually offered or exposed to minority students,” she said.

Because the program is offered as an extracurricular activity, it gives students the chance to explore coding because they’re interested in it, not because they have to, Scott said.

“I really like the fact that they’ve been exposed to something that I honestly didn’t really know about before,” she said.

CodeMasters began its annual six-week summer camp in 2012. Last year, the program expanded to after-school care. High school students meet for the program twice a week, while middle school students attend three times per week. At each session, students are given at least an hour to code using or Kahn Academy, and also do homework and learn life skills like communication and critical-thinking.

Logan said that the impetus for the program was to provide a pipeline of students into STEM fields, as well as funneling potential Ph.D. candidates into the FEF’s Ph.D. fellowship program.

Though 1.4 million jobs are projected to be available in computer science by 2020, Logan said only about 400,000 students in the United States will graduate with a corresponding degree.

“In order for America to be able to meet this need for STEM professionals and computer science professionals, it’s just a good idea that our students get exposed to it as soon as possible,” she said.

Isaiah Thomas is the Carrie P. Meek/Westview K-8 center site coordinator and a civics and U.S. history teacher at the school.

He is looking forward to the showcase, he said, because the students love the opportunity to show their assignments to their parents and peers.

“The energy is amazing,” he said. “It really gives them something they can hold on to.”

During the past year, Thomas said his CodeMasters site had excellent attendance, and it became the top after-school program there.

“Anytime you can find those stories where students are going the extra mile, that’s a good story — that’s education,” Thomas said.

The basis of education, he said, is the application of learning, and CodeMasters is a great opportunity for students to do just that.

“The students are able to apply what they learn and see that there may be a void in this field, and that they may be able to fill that void.”