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One Man’s Drive to Bring STEM to Disadvantaged Students
Growing up as a foster kid in New York City, Kalimah Priforce wanted to see more and do more.
A part of his 8-year-old brain believed that the more he was exposed to, the better his chances.
“You emulate what you see,” Priforce said. “If you only have a narrow vision of the world around you, that’s what you’ll become.”
To improve his chances, an 8-year-old Priforce protested for the opportunity to visit the city’s museums.
Now he wants to provide the same sort of exposure to kids less likely to be represented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers when they grow up.
He’s turned his experience as an educator and as a kid into a start-up designed to bring disadvantaged young people and opportunity together. Qeyno Labs works as a social network that rewards students for making connections with professionals in science-related fields.
“That’s the hard thing about traditional social media,” Priforce said. “You know how it asks ‘Do you know this person?’ Well, of course these kids don’t know these people. But they want to.”
“You want social mobility, not a social network,” he said.
For some kids, he noted, a lot of their social networks aren’t filled with people who will help them advance in math or science. Rather, it’s people in circumstances similar to what they already know. Priforce wants to expand that.
Priforce left the foster system as a teen and opened his computer business — Wizz Kidd Computers — fixing neighbors’ and local businesses’ computers while still in high school.
When asked about bridging the gap in math and sciences, Priforce taps into his early experiences:
Let Them Play
His own understanding of technology, for example, could be considered an accident.
Assigned to an in-school suspension, Priforce was left alone in a computer lab. That freed him to play and experiment with the machines, to create his own self-directed learning without fear of being reminded to be careful with the computers.
Later, when he put that expertise to work putting computers in classrooms, he noticed his peers didn’t spend much time on them.
“The computer lab is over there and there are all of these rules: ‘Don’t sneeze on it,’ ” Priforce said with a laugh. “Come on. Seriously. No kids wants to deal with that. They need to be able to break computers.”
Being able to experiment with computers without fear allowed Priforce to master them.
Keep Behavior Separate From Learning
While in school, Priforce was shuttled from campus to campus.
He had problems with fights, most of which weren’t his fault, he says. But his grades were good.
“It was like there were two different people,” he said. One principal saw that and threw him a lifeline. Looking at his academic record, she saw potential. She talked to him and let him come to her campus when others might have rejected him.
“She decided to give me a second chance,” Priforce said. “She really transformed the trajectory of my life.”
Bring in the World
Finding role models and people students can relate to expands their world, Priforce says
Find out how a student’s interests intersect with the real-world. Someone who is into video may want to know more about technology that transmits it.
Help students connect with people who do for a living the things students are interested in.
Remember, the Technology May Already Be There
The hot technology these days is the tablet, specially the iPad.
It’s expensive. It can get stolen. It’s not in a lot of homes of kids on the wrong side of the science divide. These families may have smartphones, but they aren’t left out because they are too easy to steal.
The key, Priforce thinks, is the game console.
“I don’t see a digital divide … I see a technology divide,” Priforce said. “The No. 1-selling computing device — it’s hooked up to the Internet — is the Xbox, the PlayStation, and it’s already in these homes.”
He’d like to see educators develop apps aimed toward minority and urban populations using these game systems. He’d also like to see game makers step up and fund the apps to help bridge the divide.
Looking for ways to get kids interested in science, technology, engineering or math? Follow him on Twitter: @Priforce