For the 2019/2020 season, we are working on a very special project. We call the project STEM Magic MADE in St. Louis, and our partners include The Magic House, MADE STL, and St. Louis Public Schools.
St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) is the largest school district in Missouri, and it strives to address issues of racial inequality and poverty that many of its students deal with every day. In 2018, the district’s department of College and Career Readiness launched a district-wide STEM strategy. Studies show that today's STEM workforce is no more diverse now than in 2001, and notably, only 8 percent of STEM degrees awarded in the US are to African-American students. This year, SLPS established a group of STEM Teacher Fellows to study and make recommendations to the district for improving pathways, and the district is intensifying its pursuit of inspiring programs like FIRST robotics.
As many of our readers know, FIRST is a brand of student robotics competition, with four different programs for students age 6 to 18. FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is the most advanced of the programs: a team of high school students designs, plans, builds and programs an industrial-size robot to play a game, operates that robot in matches with other teams, and competes for judged awards.
In the city of St. Louis, there is a unique reminder of the Jim Crow era of racial segregation in the United States, referred to by observers around the world as the "Delmar Divide." Jim McKelvey, founder of the company Square, has a vision to turn the Divide into a Bridge. Referring to a stretch where he and partner Doug Auer recently opened a 32,000 square foot public makerspace, MADE STL, he said, “We expect this area of Delmar to become a maker community and a genius cluster for St. Louis.”
The grand opening of MADE STL was great news for entrepreneurs and makers in St. Louis, but those of us who work with youth were even more excited to learn that the world-famous Magic House children's museum would be opening its first permanent satellite location within the MADE STL building this summer. You can already register for summer "camps @ MADE."
At the heart of our STEM Magic MADE in St. Louis project is a new FRC team whose members will be recruited from across the high schools of the SLPS district. We are also excited by the opportunity to recruit mentors from the membership of MADE STL, which is expected to grow to at least 500.
During the build season, the team will be able to meet and work in the Magic House spaces in the evenings. Student-designed fabrication requiring the equipment of MADE STL can be done with the assistance of MADE STL staff and members. We are planning for 25 to 30 district students, but the team may grow larger, if additional funding permits.
The STEM-Magic project is only beginning when the FRC season ends. We intend the team to be truly resident, and provide weekend student-run robotics programming for younger children year round, in full partnership with The Magic House.