Last year, a few L.A.-area African American parents learned a startling fact – only 19% of Black students, from 3rd to 11th grade, were proficient in math.
That information spurred the group to work to improve those numbers by establishing the Southern California Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers Jr.
The parents’ goal was to offer year-round STEM programming for elementary and middle school-aged children, and that desire matched with NSBE’s mission “to increase the number of culturally responsible Black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community.”
Christina Lincoln-Moore, a LAUSD administrator and mother of a middle-school student, said the activities of the SoCal chapter are designed to expose participants to the exciting world of math.
“Mathematics is the key to all other learning. Actually, data shows when you focus on math, your language arts increase as well,” explained Lincoln-Moore.
“In the 21st century, we need people who are thinkers and creators. We need people to be software and electrical engineers because those roles will be the jobs that are paying [a livable wage]. African Americans won’t be part of that if we’re not doing math. Mathematics is the key to STEM.”
To increase the math proficiency levels, Lincoln-Moore and her colleagues developed the STEM program, which runs from September through June. About 45 students from various L.A. public, private, and charter schools attend the bi-weekly sessions where they participate in projects, competitions and field trips. Also, professionals in the engineering and technology fields volunteer as instructors and guest speakers.
“Our volunteers work very hard to put together this programming. We meet to outline each session and we buy all of the materials because of how passionate we are and determined to make a difference for our students,” said Lincoln-Moore.
Some of the trips the chapter organized this past year were tours of Compton Airport, the Griffith Observatory, and the space shuttle Endeavor at the California Science Center. In early December, the group visited the battleship Iowa, where members of the military conducted STEM projects with the students.
During the session on Dec. 30, the chapter hosted a screening of the acclaimed film, “Most Likely to Succeed”, at Crenshaw United Methodist Church in Baldwin Hills. The movie, which focused on re-imagining education, revealed the heights of innovation that can be achieved when educational practices are transformed to help students academically excel.
Following the viewing, a panel moderated by Lincoln-Moore discussed with parents and students how current obstacles can be overcome and changes implemented on a local level to help children succeed.
The panelists included Kyndall , executive director of the California Mathematic Project at UCLA. His organization provides professional and leadership development for K-12 mathematic teachers throughout the state.
Educational consultant Danielle Moore participated as well. The founder of Teachingonemoore.com, Moore trains elementary school teachers on methods to guide students and open up more pathways to mathematics in the classroom.
Michael Simpson, a principal environmental engineer with the L.A. Bureau of Sanitation, was also on hand to share insight. Simpson assisted in starting the NSBE L.A. chapter and continues to support Lincoln-Moore and students in preparing for NSBE competitions where they have experienced considerable success.
“We competed in the NSBE Regionals and my team won 1st place and 3rd place in the math competition and 2nd and 3rd place in the Science Bowl,” said Lincoln-Moore.
While admitting the chapter’s year-round project takes a lot of work, Lincoln-Moore and her team of volunteers intend to continue their efforts to attract children to math and other STEM topics.
“We’re committed to help students discover firsthand, how engineering and technology relate to the world around them,” said Lincoln-Moore, “and discover the excitement of academic excellence, leadership, technical development, and teamwork. We’re trying to get students to see that this is a possibility for them.”
To learn more, email Christine N. Wood, Esq., lead adviser for NSBE Jr. of Southern California, at [email protected] nsbejrsocal.org.