The pandemic has created many technology challenges for educators and their students, and yet, it has also presented an opportunity for both parties to consider how to uplift a more tech-savvy generation. Over the past three years, UnidosUS has partnered with Google to do just that through a tech-focused service-learning program called CASA Code, and now that program has a new, downloadable toolkit to move the work forward.
Emphasizing the middle-school level, the toolkit is available to all educators and youth development practitioners interested in giving students the foundation they need to engage in computer science, in a way that is culturally relevant and responsive to Latino families.
“The CASA Code Toolkit is a comprehensive resource containing all of the necessary components needed to reach Latino families and educate them on the importance of STEM education,” says Shante Stokes, UnidosUS STEM Program Manager. “Furthermore, it contains content that’s culturally relevant and provides an asset-based approach. Education is the most important issue for Latino parents, who want to be involved in their children’s education, therefore they are an important factor when it comes to introducing students to STEM. “
The toolkit comes with three sample lessons to introduce science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), in conjunction with basic computer science. To make it more accessible to families with varying access to technology, it is downloadable in an interactive and standard, non-interactive format. The toolkit also contains Google CS First lessons in Spanish.
Last year, UnidosUS collaborated with Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed), the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), the National Urban League, on a study exploring the homework gap for under-served students in the U.S. school system. The study found that nearly 17 million students across the country lacked the high-speed internet access they need to adequately connect to the virtual classroom. It then called on Congress to put some $6.8 billion for E-rate, a program of the Federal Communications Commission that provides discounts for telecommunications, internet access, and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries. Under the American Rescue Act of 2021, Congress secured a total of $7.17 billion for the creation of the Emergency Connectivity Fund. This money helps schools and libraries provide on-site and in-home access to their students and patrons, including support for hotspots, routers, modem hardware, and connected devices such as laptops and tablets.
“These funds and programs are key to ensuring Latino students are ready and able to compete in a complex digital world,” says Stokes.
Inspiring Young Latinos to Step Confidently into a High-Tech World
The release of this toolkit comes on the heels of a CASA Code Youth summit hosted online this past May with the objective of introducing students to Latino STEM professionals, raising their interest in STEM careers, and building their confidence in computer science. The summit connected a group of nearly 40 students to Latino STEM professionals who shared their personal journeys, discussed the different types of coding and software that they use on the job, the educational requirements needed for those jobs, and the types of internships that could help make students enter the industry.
Jesús García-Valdez, Google’s head of cultural communications, encouraged students to start by exploring Google.com/education, which offers a wealth of ideas and resources for individuals, classes, and coding clubs.
Asked how Google had changed his life, he said it connected him to the world in rare and unique ways. For example, he had never imagined that he would have a chance to live and work in New York City or spend six months in Brazil on a special project for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
“It’s those experiences that I value a lot because they align with my personal passion of traveling,” García-Valdez said.
Workshop facilitator Ivet González, STEAM coordinator at El Sol Science and Arts Academy in Santa Ana, California, said her personal passion is leveraging her tech background and interest in community outreach to show students they have the power and potential to be anything they want.
“Sometimes school can get challenging, and kids can lose that faith, so that’s my passion is trying to build that capacity in students, that they can be whoever they want and to follow their passion because it’s all worth it,” said González.
Students at that event said they wanted to harness technology to explore passions ranging from art and computer gaming to medicine, or just about any career path that would allow them a stable future in the digital world. And they took heart at the presenters’ reminder that gaining these skills requires patience and persistence. “Stay positive and always try your best,” a student named Nathalie told the group.
“I learned coding and to never lose hope when someone looks down on you,” a student named Jenny seconded.
Helping students learn to cooperate with and support each other is a big part of the coding challenge, and that’s why CASA Code exists, noted González.
“CASA Code is all about building leadership in students to make a change in their community—to be a change agent,” she said, adding that so many of the coding challenges and opportunities start with questions about the state of the world students are living in.
“I like inquiry,” González said, “Why do we see so much poverty, why do we see so many homeless people? Why do we see a bunch of violence on TV? Having students ask questions I feel really helps children develop leadership roles because that’s how it starts. It starts with the question. It starts with the problem, and you wanting to do something about that problem.”
Educators and youth development practitioners interested in launching a computer science education program can download the toolkit here.