FOCUSing on Summer through a Community-Based Informal STEM Program


Individual Presentation

First Presenter's Institution

Georgia State University

Second Presenter's Institution


Third Presenter's Institution


Fourth Presenter's Institution


Fifth Presenter's Institution



Ballroom D

Strand #1

Academic Achievement & School Leadership

Strand #2

Family & Community


I. “HEAD”: Academic Achievement & Leadership- This proposal relates to the “HEAD” strand because I share about a summer program that I developed in an underserved area called FOCUS. FOCUS provides equitable opportunities for students to learn by giving them access to high-quality academic enrichment in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. One of the major goals of FOCUS is to develop and maintain culturally healthy students by meeting the needs of the whole child: mind, body, and spirit. This is accomplished by providing participants with the resources, skills, knowledge, and training to be well-rounded, productive, responsible, and engaged citizens. Teachers engage students in meaningful learning that embraces their lived experiences through a culturally-relevant curriculum, supported by mentors who are sensitive and responsive to their needs. Gloria Ladson-Billings (1989) coined the term “culturally healthy” for minority (in particular Black) students who “enjoy a high degree of mental, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual health” (p. 230). FOCUS is based on the understanding that students are influenced by their home and community environments; therefore, valuing and respecting students’ lived experiences is of utmost importance. Teachers, staff, and parents support the individual needs of students through a culturally-relevant STEM curriculum where the students experience academic success, maintain their cultural competence, and develop critical consciousness (Ladson-Billings, 1995).

V. “HOME”: Family & Community- This proposal relates to the “HOME: strand because the learning community in FOCUS extends beyond the students and staff to the parents and community members. During the summer, parents essentially parent the program supplying physical resources and support, while the teachers parent the children, giving them access to high-quality enrichment experiences. For example, parents donate snacks to cut down on the cost of providing food, serve as speakers, and volunteer filing papers, serving lunch, and even cleaning up classrooms. FOCUS has an open-door policy where parents are encouraged to participate in the lessons, field trips, and activities. These relationships are built on trust and are embedded within the cultural and social context of the community. The classes are structured in a way that value the participants’ homes and communities with an emphasis on building relationships and an inclusive-community

FOCUS is staffed by certified teachers who teach in local schools and have demonstrated cultural awareness by attending to the cultural experiences of learners and implementing hands-on, minds-on, and reform-based STEM learning experiences that are engaging for children. The FOCUS teachers embrace an interdisciplinary approach to learning and develop science lessons that infuse technology, engineering, and mathematical concepts throughout. The enacted curriculum is therefore developed and implemented in partnership with a state university, local college, and volunteers from hospitals, businesses, and STEM-related organizations.

For example, students engage in engineering activities with university groups such as the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Human Center Computing (HCC) team in robotics lessons around coding commands for robots. The participants use iPads to blog about their STEM-learning experiences and visit the local museum of natural history using the iNaturalist app to learn about the natural world and document their experiences. Students also visit an invention museum where they use state-of-the-art technology in the fab (fabrication) lab and their imagination in the creativity lab to learn about concepts such as how sound travels and simple circuits. The Office of Diversity & Health Equity at the local university’s College of Medicine host a Medical Career Outreach Day for students to learn about careers in the medical field from health professionals of diverse backgrounds, and how to apply the sciences through demonstrations and interactive sessions.

Brief Program Description

In this presentation, I share the design and implementation of a community-based informal STEM program, and how I successfully leveraged community and university resources to meet the needs of underserved K-12 students. This interactive session will interest attendees who are curriculum developers, informal STEM educators, and practitioners or researchers engaged in broadening the participation of underrepresented populations in STEM.


The context of this presentation is a community-based informal STEM program called FOCUS. FOCUS stands for Fostering Opportunities & Cultivating Upstanding Students and is a five-week summer program targeting underrepresented minorities in STEM, particularly in underserved areas, with goals of improving their interests, identity, and engagement in STEM education. FOCUS prepares students to become responsible and scientifically-literate citizens and aims to prevent summer learning loss (Cooper, 2003; Maríñez-Lora & Quintana, 2010). In 2012, a group of teachers who desired to see an improvement in the educational programs offered to K-12 students collaborated to establish FOCUS in a county in a southeastern state in the US. Since its inception, the program has served over 400 students in a local community by providing supplemental academic enrichment, mentoring, tutoring, and character development for the overall well-being of the participants.

FOCUS aligns with the six goals and practices of informal science learning as presented by Feder et al. (2009) with clear learning goals for all activities engaging participants in scientific phenomena while supporting their learning. The vision of FOCUS is to develop underrepresented scholars who through mentoring are equipped with the knowledge, resources, and skills to be scientifically-literate and productive citizens. FOCUS accomplishes this by providing high-quality experiences in technology, mathematics, and engineering embedded within an inquiry-based science curriculum. The “S” in “STEM” is emphasized because science is used as the vehicle to promote STEM by integrating technology, mathematics, and engineering in scientific core concepts and practices. Students understand that science is all around them and engage in investigations and STEM experiences that are engaging, relevant, and challenging.

FOCUS is unique in that it is sustained through community and university partnerships without the support of federal or state grants. This model can be replicated in communities across the US. During this interactive session, I will share the FOCUS Logic Model highlighting the inputs and activities and enlighten attendees on how to identify resources and begin similar programs that can positively impact students in high-need communities.


With the US student population becoming increasingly diverse, it is essential that all students have access to high-quality education for an opportunity to become productive citizens of this democracy (Horsford, 2011; Juarez & Hayes, 2010, 2012; Ladson-Billings, 2013). Furthermore, if the US is to maintain its national security and global competiveness in the 21st century, the state of education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) must be improved in our schools and universities. According to a recent report released by the World Economic Forum, The US is ranked fifth internationally in global economic competiveness behind Switzerland, Singapore, Sweden, and Finland (Dutta & Mia, 2011). STEM occupations play a key role in the growing and sustaining the US economy and comprise about 10% of the jobs in the US with wages nearing twice the national average (Jones, 2014; Langdon, McKittrick, Beede, Khan, & Domas, 2011). Furthermore, STEM fields “drive our nation’s innovation and competitiveness by generating new ideas, new companies and new industries” (Langdon et al., 2011, p. 1).

A recent report released in Education Week indicated the need to improve the educational experiences for minority and low-income populations because they are not prepared to pursue careers in STEM fields (McNeil & Blad, 2014). This report also revealed that 25% of high schools with the highest percentages of Black and Latino/a students do not offer Algebra 2 and 33% of those schools do not offer chemistry, both of which are essential courses in preparing students for success in college STEM coursework (McNeil & Blad, 2014).

There is a documented need for summer enrichment programs because children from all socioeconomic groups learn at the same rate during the school year, however, differences in achievement (between the poor and middle/high class) occur when school is not in session (Miller, 2007). Children from low-income households demonstrate a tremendous capacity to learn even though schools often do not provide equitable conditions for them. Opportunities that engage children in STEM disciplines outside of the classroom directly impacts the learning that takes place in school (NRC, 2015). Yet, there is a growing need to make science learning accessible for more populations of students. Science learning in informal settings can potentially broaden the participation of underrepresented populations in science and engineering (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Out-of-school science experiences (from summer programs to afterschool programs) have the potential to stimulate students’ interest in science while positively impacting their academic achievement, and giving them exposure to career options in STEM.

Even though it is sometimes difficult to measure the outcomes of informal STEM programs, studies support that informal programs (a) contribute to students’ understanding of and interest in STEM, (b) reduce the gap in achievement between socioeconomic groups, and (c) provide students with caring adults who serve as role models and mentors (NRC, 2015). In identifying and developing productive informal STEM programs, NRC (2015) states that the program must be academically, socially, and emotionally, engaging; responsive to students’ interests, experiences, and cultures; and connect to children’s school, home, and community environments. FOCUS provides such opportunities to level the playing field and help children find their passions, expand their horizons, foster strong relationships, and master new skills.

Biographical Sketch

Natalie S. King is an assistant professor of science education in the Department of Middle and Secondary Education at Georgia State University. Her scholarly work focuses on K-12 science education with an emphasis on middle grades science experiences, advancing African American girls in STEM education, community-based informal STEM programs, and the role of curriculum in fostering equity in science teaching and learning. As a former high school science teacher, Natalie is passionate about preparing students from underrepresented populations to enter careers within the STEM disciplines and founded the Fostering Opportunities & Cultivating Upstanding Students (FOCUS) Summer Program. FOCUS in a community-based informal STEM program for K-12 students that provides a comprehensive curriculum embracing students’ cultural experiences preparing them to become productive and critically-conscious citizens. In 2014, Natalie expanded the FOCUS Summer Program into a year-round tutoring program called FOCUS CARES - College Attainment & Readiness Enrichment Services.

Keyword Descriptors

informal STEM programs, minority youth, community partnerships, university partnerships, summer learning

Presentation Year


Start Date

3-8-2017 9:45 AM

End Date

3-8-2017 11:00 AM

This document is currently not available here.


Mar 8th, 9:45 AM Mar 8th, 11:00 AM

FOCUSing on Summer through a Community-Based Informal STEM Program

Ballroom D

In this presentation, I share the design and implementation of a community-based informal STEM program, and how I successfully leveraged community and university resources to meet the needs of underserved K-12 students. This interactive session will interest attendees who are curriculum developers, informal STEM educators, and practitioners or researchers engaged in broadening the participation of underrepresented populations in STEM.