More than a year has passed since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and Deaf and BIPOC communities continue to be disproportionately impacted by its ripple effects – including ongoing health, economic, and educational impacts. Deaf and hard-of-hearing (D/HH) children, especially adolescents, continue to face both social and linguistic isolation, especially if people in their home do not know or use American Sign Language.
Research shows that less than 8% of D/HH children receive regular access to sign language in the home. That’s why CSD Learns, a subsidiary of Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), is teaming up with Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID) to provide the “STEM Explorers Virtual Classroom,” specifically designed to support students and families who identify as Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and D/HH and are interested in learning about the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
We want our students to feel excited and curious about STEM fields by making STEM more relevant to their lives,” said Jeanine Pollard, a Digital Learning Developer from CSD Learns. “Our classroom helps students envision themselves in their future careers.”
The STEM Explorers Virtual Classroom will give 23 middle-schoolers from 12 schools across four states free laptops and mobile hotspots to ensure they have full access to the program regardless of any existing digital divide. Over three weeks, students will connect with other D/HH students online, learn from successful D/HH role models with careers in the STEM field, build STEM skills through fun activity boxes at home, and dream up their own path to a career in STEM fields.
“I’ve had parents tell me, ‘This is Awesome!'” said Shira Grabelsky, a School Lead representing New Mexico School for the Deaf in the Virtual Classroom. “When I talk to parents about the program, they look at their child with pride. They’re excited their children can be part of this.”
Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals grow up in a world designed for and by people who can hear, and most face lifelong barriers to upward socio-economic mobility. The type of opportunities provided by CSD Learns can change that: Deaf and hard-of-hearing people earn 31% more in STEM careers than in non-STEM careers.
“RIT/NTID is proud to partner with CSD Learns on these important projects,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID President and RIT Vice President and Dean. “This partnership continues our long-standing reputation for providing high quality STEM educational opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing middle and high school students through our many competitions and summer programs such as EYF, Tech Boyz/Girls, Health Care Career Exploration and the popular Math Competition and Next Big Idea: High School Edition.”
The STEM Explorers Virtual Classroom was made possible through a grant provided by General Motors. “This is an opportunity for us to actively and intentionally engage in social projects that can help improve the lives of everyone, everywhere,” said Kelsey Gaines, STEM Education Program Officer from General Motors. “Together we are making investments in immersive, hands-on learning that encourages youth from all communities to explore their STEM identities.”