By JP Miller
Early this year, we were prepared to partner with a local financial institution to teach twenty students web development and financial management during our district’s spring break. Our goal was for students to collaboratively create a landing page devoted to promoting financial intelligence for young people. However, as news of the pandemic began to take place, we were forced to come to terms with the situation.
At that point, we had two weeks to assess student interest in an online class before the scheduled spring break program. We sent a simple survey asking students if they would be interested in participating in a virtual program. Given the stress that families and students were experiencing, I had little idea of how many positive responses to expect. Fortunately, we received enough interest to indicate that an immersive virtual program would be feasible.
We moved focus away from financial intelligence to more pressing societal issues. My executive director and I wanted this program to have a clear purpose for our students. Learning how to use technology is awesome, but if students don’t know how to apply those tools to benefit their communities then I’m only preparing them to accept a well-paying job. Our students’ potential is far greater than this. They bring lifestyle backgrounds and frames of reference that are just now being explored by Silicon Valley.
COVID-19 was disrupting countless lives and we didn’t have a decent pulse on the specific ways it was impacting our families. The few surveys we received indicated that almost all of our respondents liked the idea, but an all-day program, the kind we most often hold for in-person events, didn’t seem practical. I conducted research for implementing successful online programs and found that two-hour sessions tend to max out a student’s attention span. I also found a study that discovered teenagers would perform best if school began at 10:30 so I determined that would be the start of our day.
I drafted an email that introduced the new program and asked for a “YES” response from students who would attend. To my great pleasure, several positive responses returned. Following a thorough review of our program materials, I felt confident that we were as ready as possible for the program to begin the following week.
That Monday, I launched Maydm’s first virtual program, Hear Me Now: Technology Amplifying Student Voices, from my home desk. Ten students joined for the morning session and continued to join for every single session. They all engaged and learned the material at an accelerated pace with 100% attendance. It would have been easy for any one of the students to ghost the program at any given time. Their dedication to their growth and their desire to learn the foundational skills of web development made Hear Me Now an enormous success.
By the end of the program, students were writing their own HTML and CSS and had integrated Bootstrap into their projects. Every student independently created their own website based on a civil activist of their choosing, and collaboratively designed a webpage addressing societal issues with three or four of their peers.
According to entrance and exit surveys, students indicated a significantly higher attraction toward STEM-based jobs. Many indicated that they felt empowered and more confident as a result of their participation, 80% felt like they were makers of technology, and 100% of students stated that they would like to enroll in future Maydm programs.
When reflecting on the program, Brandon, a sophomore, said, “I’m most proud of working in a team and making a website with the skills I gained and will continue to build. I learned a lot about brainstorming and decision making with others as well as being independent within your role while collaborating.”
Elfin, a freshman said that she will remember, “The relief of everything on the website being functional and definitely the carousel and borders on the grid looking nice and neat.”
When asked about their experiences of collaborating with peers, Daniel, in ninth grade said, “Collaborating with my teammates went well since even if I did mess up, they helped me look for a different way to solve it.”
My team was able to pivot from postponing an in-person immersive program to deploying our first virtual classroom in ten business days by pulling together, adapting rapidly and engaging in proactive conversations. We united for a common purpose during this time of social distancing to accomplish something bigger than ourselves for the enrichment of ten brilliant students that have now proven to themselves that they can have a future in STEM professions.
Given the state of events, it appears as though we’ll be offering additional virtual experiences this summer and I’m thrilled for the possibilities of what our students will be able to create.
See our student’s collaborative projects at https://portfolios.maydm.org