Building a Brighter Future for One Harmony Oaks Student

May 3, 2021

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In Harmony Oaks, 20 USI families were awarded a scholarship to participate in Camp: ASPIRE, a STEM-based program offered throughout the summer of 2020 despite COVID-19 and other challenges. This story is one of many pathways created by scholars.

During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, families across the country were faced with difficulties accessing educational afterschool and summer programs due to the sudden virtualization of education. For Edith of our Harmony Oaks community in New Orleans, finding a summer program to capture her 12-year-old son, Christopher’s, attention was top of mind.

Inspiring Students with STEM through Camp: ASPIRE

Edith is Christopher’s mother, a bright, highly skilled 12-year-old living with ADHD, PTSD, and mild Aspergers. During the COVID lockdowns, Edith prayed for any educational programming to capture Christopher’s attention. And it seems that her prayers were answered.

Through USI New Orleans’ partnership with STEM NOLA, the nation’s leading immersive, out-of-school, project-based STEM program, Christopher was one of 20 youth awarded a scholarship to participate in Camp: ASPIRE from Harmony Oaks.

Camp: Aspire is a STEM NOLA/Chevron/UBTECH collaborative effort that provides options to traditional summer enrichment programs. With options like face-to-face summer camps – which were canceled – while still allowing parents the opportunity to connect their scholars to learning engineering, robotics, and specialized skills, like problem-solving throughout the summer months.

“We are so excited to be able to offer Camp: ASPIRE at a time when meaningful learning opportunities for children have been curtailed. Special thanks to Chevron for their generosity. Because of their donation, kids that might not have this opportunity otherwise will be immersed in activities that will challenge their imaginations and equip them with practical skills for the future.”
– Dr. Calvin Mackie, Director and Founder of STEM NOLA

The Building Blocks to Success

Edith had known STEM NOLA founder Dr. Mackie and his work previously—he had mentored her daughter post-Hurricane Katrina. However, she had lost connection over the years. So, the call from USI New Orleans reintroduced her at the perfect time.

“When you called (to introduce the program), I was wracking my brain trying to think of ways to get him interested in anything—to find anything to inspire him,” – Edith.

When asked about her and Christopher’s experience with Camp: ASPIRE, Edith responded, “It helps Christopher with his patience and focus. He wasn’t discouraged because he knows he can do it. Every time he did a class, his attitude improved. There is a sense of accomplishment that makes him want to do more. Instead of me trying to get him to do something, he just does it because he’s not discouraged.”

“I enjoyed watching him enjoy the program when he really applied himself. All I do is worry about what’s going to happen to him cause eventually, he’s gonna grow up and have to get a job and take on responsibility. If he can’t do the simple things, how will he be able to function as an adult? His performance confirms that he can do more. The Harmony Oaks team really came in to support us at the most important time.” – Edith

A scorpion robot Christopher made at Camp: ASPIRE

Making a Difference for Christopher

Throughout the four-week program, Christopher designed two robots, a car and a tractor. He was so prodigious in his creative efforts that Dr. Mackie allowed Christopher to keep the robotics kits, so he could continue programming them independently.

Christopher, who is on track to becoming a Lego Master Builder, is developing a class through the Harmony Oaks Community Center to share his love of Legos and building with other youth.



If you’d like to see more students from USI New Orleans communities access these opportunities, we encourage you to donate via Give NOLA Day on May 6th, 2021. You can donate here:

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