Deep in the heart of Homestead at the Phicol Williams Community Center technology is blooming. Three-D printers are whirring, user-directed smart balls are rolling and code is being written. And all at the direction of middle and high schoolers who likely didn’t have a chance to use such technology just a short while ago.
Now, more than 120 kids will get to flex their STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics) muscles thanks to the opening of Fab Lab Miami in a setting that was created to serve a community that otherwise wouldn’t have access to. The Fab Lab Miami is the second collaboration between The Children’s Trust and several other partners brought together to spread STEAM learning to students in underserved communities through hands-on instruction in digital fabrication and other STEAM activities. The other Fab Lab operates out of another Trust-funded provider, the Belafonte TACOLCY Center in Liberty City, while a third location is being contemplated.
Major, a third grader who participated in the launch event, spent time coding and controlling mini robotic balls. “I like to drive around the (robotic spheres),” Major said, “This gives me experience how to make my own things and to learn how to code.”
It’s an education Major and several of his classmates agreed that they didn’t have before Fab Lab Miami. And they all said they had fun while learning, including making key chains and toys with the 3-D printer.
James R. Haj, president & CEO of The Trust, attended the launch and said that this Fab Lab would have a particular focus, Agri-Tech - the application of technology and digital tools to farming - because of the neighboring community’s agricultural characteristics. “The south sometimes gets neglected in terms of funding programs. And to be able to bring a state-of-the-art hub to South Dade, to Homestead, really focusing on agriculture and Agri-science, it really ties in well,” Haj told the Miami Herald.
Joining Haj at the launch were representatives from of the Funders’ Collaborative that sponsored the Fab Lab, including the DeLuca Foundation, Kirk Foundation, Key Biscayne Community Foundation and Ocean Reef Community Foundation.
The Fab Lab Miami is run by teachers trained in how to instruct the technology offered to the students by staff at Florida International University, another partner. FIU’s Dean of the College of Communications, Architecture and the Arts Brian Schriner was also on hand to talk about the combination of technology and teachers to get the most out of students. “Technology will never replace great teachers, but, in the hands of great teachers, technology can be truly transformational,” he said.
Dr. Icilda Humes, chief of staff at Gang Alternative Inc, another Trust-provider which operates Phicol Williams Community Center and will serve as the site and program manager for the Fab Lab, was excited that neighborhood students would have an opportunity to learn skills that they can translate into professional careers and help them avoid a negative path.