Featured image collage by Danny Gross. This post has been edited and originally appeared in full on the Washington STEM blog.
Four weeks ago, 40 educators, administrators, advocates, and the Washington STEM team, including myself, hopped aboard a bus to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education across Washington. The trip focused on examining how STEM education is represented state-wide in various communities in southern and eastern Washington. The goal? To spend three days exploring how the student experience in schools around Washington intersected with issues on educational equity, Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, and career opportunities.
We traveled across southern and eastern Washington. First we went south to Vancouver; then east to Zillah, the Yakama Nation, and the city of Yakima; and then further east, to Cheney and Spokane. Each one of these communities showed us something unique and exciting.
But for me, there was one exceptional experience that set off a tidal wave of inner reflection, and challenged my thinking when it comes to students, education and the resources needed for success.
On our second day of the statewide Learning Tour, we stopped at the Yakama Nation Museum and Cultural Center to listen to a group of Native American students from the Yakama Nation Tribal School. The students’ curriculum was centered around Project Based Learning and personal research, and covered a wide range of topics.
The last and most personally thought-provoking presentation was from two groups of students. They had dug deeper into computer science and programming by way of a micro-controller from an open source hardware and software company called Arduinos. The students discussed using the Arduinos to write code to create light patterns using LED lights and control artificial limbs.
As the students spoke, I took a picture of the girls talking about their work. The photo shows the girls holding a small circuit board. In the picture it looked as if they were holding and protecting a precious thing.
That device, to me, represented so much more than the sum of its parts. It was a path towards a life of learning, exploring, and breaking down barriers that face women and underrepresented communities in the state of Washington and across Indian country.
As I reviewed the picture, I thought to myself, “That tiny circuit board is a gift that will bear fruit many times over. The learning that has started around computer science and the device could carry over into many other areas for these students.”
And then that thought came to a screeching halt.
That circuit board is no gift, nor is the learning that has allowed those students to create what they have; they are both necessities. We should not pat ourselves on the back when we see a group of students taking advantage of the small amount of resources they have been given access to.
The underrepresented populations in our state should not have to wait for “gifts” to be bestowed on them to secure a future that is both bright and exciting – a future that many others have come to expect as a given.
Should we celebrate their learning and accomplishments? Absolutely. But again, these things are not “gifts.” The Arduino and the computer science education around the device should be the baseline of measurement, not a stand-out example.
The underrepresented populations in our state should not have to wait for “gifts” to be bestowed on them to secure a future that is both bright and exciting – a future that many others have come to expect as a given. What’s more, tools such as the Arduino are not prizes or presents – they are the necessary tools that will allow students to be successful in the 21st century.
While there are some schools that have these resources, there are far too many that do not. And more often that not, those schools are the ones with large minority populations. It is the Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, girls, and the economically disadvantaged — just to list a few — who are often overlooked.
We should look to those who are able to bring success to their communities and learn from them, especially when the odds are not in their favor. There are phenomenal people already hard at work on these issues, and they are the people we should listen to when tackling the systemic, widespread challenges in Washington’s school districts. Most importantly, we must ask more from our state leadership, and we must ask more from ourselves.
There is no benevolence or gift giving. There is only doing my best to make sure every single student in Washington has access to the robust and impactful education they deserve.
How can we make sure every student in Washington has access to the resources they need to succeed? For me, the first step I’ll take is adjusting the lens through which I view education. There is no benevolence or gift giving: there is only doing my best to make sure every single student in Washington has access to the robust and impactful education they deserve.
Danny Gross is a Communication Leadership student and current intern at Washington STEM. You can more about his internship experience here.