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S.O.L.O. Robotics brings STEAM to inner-city schools

LOS ANGELES - South Los Angeles Robotics (SOLO) is on a mission to bridge the technology divide between inner-city youth and their more affluent counterparts.

       The brainchild of Jennifer Lashley, who got the idea for the organization while taking her daughters to attend robotic classes in more affluent neighborhoods, SOLO was created to ensure that youth of color have the opportunity to engage in STEAM (science, math, English and mathematics) programs when she was taking her daughters to attend robotics classes in their own communities.  

       For the past several years Lashley, who is a teacher, has worked to even the playing field for inner-city youths, providing access to technology for kids in underrepresented areas by making sure that they have the resources and training they need to learn basic computer programming, coding, website building and robotics. She has taught robotics in schools and began hosting booths at various events that has reached thousands of youth throughout the Los Angeles area.

     “Society is getting more and more technology forward every second of everyday and our children cannot afford to be left behind,” said Lashley. “From navigating a tablet or needing to interface with a computer for homework, testing, research, etc., we do our kids a disservice, and limit their option for the future, if we do not give them the skills they need to compete in an ever changing world.”

      Lashley believes that Los Angeles is the perfect place to build a strong technological community youth. She points to the fact that Silicon Valley is the home of 500 tech companies, and youth have the opportunity to connect with huge companies such as Google and Yahoo.

Working with youth in grades 6-12, SOLO Robotics offers varying levels of technology classes meant to build on their skill sets as they age. In 2015, Lashley put together her first robotic team, that competed in 2016.

The outpouring of interest has been so great in the community that in 2018, Lashley decided to incorporate the program into a non-profit, offering regular workshops for a monthly membership fee.

        Lashley has seen first-hand what can happen when you pleased to be able to provide a space for kids who have similar interest in robotics can come together and learn from each other.

      “A couple of years ago I was working at a school with a robotics team and there was a 12- -year-old boy who was graduating below his grade level and was always angry and getting into trouble, he wasn’t a part of the team but the principal saw something in him and decided to put him in the program as incentive,” said Lashley.

“He came in and immediately started building robots and acting as a guide to the other kids and until then not only did nobody else see him as a good leader but he never saw himself as one either.”

        Lashley saw how much pride he took in being a problem solver and was pleasantly surprised by

the change he saw him in and by the time he graduated he had not only improved his academic performance in school but choose to matriculate to a magnet school with a STEAM component.

       “I will never forget that he was elected to speak at his graduation ceremony and he talked about what a difference being part of the robotics team meant to him…how it taught him what it meant to be part of group…and that he could make different choices and go down a more positive path than some of the people he knew. It was amazing, I mean this kid had reached such a turning point and a year before that he didn’t know anything about robotics and now he had learned about goals, learned the meaning of team work and learned I can choose my path, I can do whatever I want to do.”    

       As for the future, Lashley is working to finalize locations for her 2019 Saturday workshops and is seeking volunteer teachers and help with purchasing equipment to be able to provide participants programming in at least four different robotic platforms. In February the SOLO Robotics team is going to Barcelona, Spain to participate in a STEAM conference, one that Lashley hopes will be the first of many.

      Lashley wants the program building for SOLO Robotics to be interactive and those who are interested are asked to fill out a survey and join the email list that can be find in the bio link of the organization’s Instagram page.    

          Lashley hopes that participants in the program are able to redefine their relationship with technology. 

        “I created this program because I strongly believe that our kids need to be just more than consumers of technology. Our kids have phones, they use the Internet, Snap Chat, Instagram, and there is no reason that they should learn how to be creators as well.”

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