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CORAL Expanded Learning Program helps children from underprivileged neighborhoods get STEM-ready for high school

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CORAL Expanded Learning Program helps children from underprivileged neighborhoods get STEM-ready for high school

By Nisha Shanmugam Kokilam, STEM Program Supervisor, CORAL Expanded Learning Program, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County. CORAL supports narrowing the opportunity gap in accessing STEM in the underprivileged neighborhoods of San Jose by offering free, innovative and high-quality programs to the children and youth. One opportunity to mention is Facebook’s Engineer for the Week, which helped the participants create an engineering prototype for a social cause.

Communities Organizing Resources to Advance Learning - CORAL is an Expanded Learning Program offered by Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, providing out of school learning services, thereby connecting the underserved children in the high poverty neighborhoods of San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley, to valuable free resources to bridge the STEM learning gap between them and their computer/IT-skilled peers. San Jose is one of the wealthiest and most diverse communities in the US. However, many of the children and youth in low-income and underprivileged neighborhoods are not reaching their educational potential. The STEM learning gap in them remains wide despite the region’s robust technology growth. 

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs are generally expensive and underserved families can’t afford the tuition for their children’s participation in a STEM program. To address this issue, CORAL After School offers a bunch of STEM programs free of cost for K-8 grades to reduce the learning gap for underserved children and to prepare them to be STEM-ready for high school. Grades K-3 grades are offered science camps in the summer and other science learning activities through the school year. Technology programs such as coding and robotic camps are offered for upper elementary grades and middle school through the school year. All these STEM camps and classes are highly valued and appreciated by the families in our CORAL program, which they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. 

COVID-19 has impacted these underserved families economically and has widened the digital divide, resulting in learning gaps and losses in their youth. When the County moved into shelter-in-place, CORAL distributed STEM kits containing basic school supplies and hands-on science activities for the children to learn. We then started offering virtual programs to these children and youth to bridge the learning divide the pandemic caused and help them socio-emotionally. The virtual CORAL Coding Club gives middle school students an opportunity to learn Python, a widely-used programming language in the software industry. Moreover, CORAL now offers in-person classroom support to children and youth who were not benefited by distance learning.

CORAL is consistently leveraging resources to improve these children’s participation in STEM programs by offering innovative programs. Facebook’s Engineer For The Week program was one such novel program offered virtually to our students in Fall 2020, and we registered a team of five students into the program. The program provided the team an opportunity to design an engineering prototype and led them through the practical engineering design. The participants were inspired to be socially responsible by creating an opportunity to design a chatbot for their community to address a social issue. The team developed a chatbot named “COVID Help Bot” to help the people in the community look up free resources near them via their Facebook account. The program engaged the team socio-emotionally, technically and provided them new insights into engineering product design and development. The team was excited and honored to see their project showcased in the Achievement Summit hosted by Afterschool Alliance and Facebook.

Our team wouldn’t have had this engineering experience without their participation in Facebook’s Engineer For The Week program. The resources and materials in the EFTW webpage for the facilitator and students were very informative and guided our team through the entire project design and development. Thank you for such a valuable, free-of-cost program!

 

 

The enrollment period for the 2020 Spring Sprint of Facebook's Engineer for the Week is open until March 14, 2021. Not only is the Alliance Alliance offering additional program support from one of our STEM specialists, we're also awarding $500 to the first eight (8) programs that complete the project. The second ten (10) programs to complete the project will each get $200. Sign up now!

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