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Bethany Baptist Church partners with UCLA to promote STEM programs

Young students built a structure using tubes. Using a marble, they learned about kinetic energy. Photos by Jason Lewis


The Launch Academy was created to make math and science fun for children.

A student explains how he built a small vehicle, and how it will move.


By Jason Lewis

Children at Bethany Baptist Church of West Los Angels in Crenshaw Manor were nearly bouncing off the walls with excitement at a recent summer camp.  The children were not playing games or being rambunctious, they were learning math and science at the Launch Academy.  

“Science is a verb.  It’s about doing,” said Lynn Kim-John Ed.D., Director of Science Programs at UCLA Center X.  

Bethany Baptist Church and UCLA Center X created the Launch Academy.  At the summer camp, the children, age 4-14, were not only studying out of books and learning off of a white board, they were performing hands-on tasks that are based on the concepts that they are learning from their teachers.  They were building movable objects with materials that can be found just about anywhere, mixing different chemicals, and solving equations.  

“This is not just about fun, the fun is a byproduct,” Kim-John said.  “The primary goal is for the kids to learn some science.  They’re having fun because they’re engaged in deep conceptional thinking.  They feel empowered because they’re learning.  How many times do children go to science class and feel defeated because they don’t understand some science concept, and nobody cared enough to ask, ‘do you understand?’”

The purpose of this program is to introduce the children to the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field.  

“This program is important, because our children, African Americans and Latinos, do not get the advantage of STEM programs,” said Michelle Washington, Education Program Coordinator at the Bethany Baptist Church Community Development Corporation.  “You see those programs offered in higher (income) areas.  This program allows our children to know that they are just as good.  That they can be a scientist, a bio-chemist, that they can go into engineering.  You can be from (South) L.A., you can be from Compton, you can have one parent in the home, and you can still be involved in those type of things.  It’s not just an Asian thing, or a Caucasian thing.  It’s an everybody thing.”

There are more STEM jobs available than there are people to fill those jobs, making college graduates who majored in STEM fields in high demand.

“The future will hold many STEM positions that we cannot fill,” Kim-John said.  “The result is that we will outsource from different countries and bring folks in to fill those positions.  So it is an absolute priority for K-12 education to focus on STEM.  Not just science, but computer science, technology, applied math, engineering.  This is the future.  Our world is completely changing in terms of what types of positions and jobs will exist.  I believe that many of them will require some STEM thinking skills.  Coding and computer science will be a huge need.”



At UCLA, and other universities around the nation, there is a push for diversity in the STEM majors.

“I am in the sciences and I interact with many graduate students at UCLA, and many professors in the sciences,” Kim-John said.  “When you walk the campus, it’s very noticeable that there is not enough diversity on that part of the campus.  This has become a mission for me as a director of science programs at UCLA, to work with teachers to inspire their children to want to go into sciences.”

One way to encourage children to become interested in science is to have them work together performing  hands-on projects, as opposed to learning out of a book only.

“They’re engaged, they’re laughing, they’re collaborating, they’re learning, they’re having to derive equations, and more,” Kim-John said.  

UCLA Center X and Bethany Baptist Church have created a pressure free environment for the children, which allows them to express themselves and excel.

“We don’t have the stress of some sort of test at the end of the year,” Kim-John said.  “When we worked with teachers, it was important for us to say that this is a camp environment, so it shouldn’t feel like school, but the students should be learning.”

As important as it was for the children to be introduced to this way of learning, it was also important for the teachers to see it too.

“One of the most impressive moments for me happened when a teacher came up to me and said, ‘this is making me rethink the structure of my own classwork,’” Kim-John said.  “Sometimes schools suck the fun out of science.”

Kim-John also encourages parents to be proactive in finding STEM programs for their children.  Parents can use Google to find programs in their area.  

“For parents, seeking out these type of enrichment programs is important to enrich the lives of these kids,” she said.  “The reality is that teachers do not have the time to get to all of the science that they want to get to.  If parents want their children to aspire to be a scientist, or be an engineer, or go into STEM, these programs are important.”

Parents should also participate in their child’s learning at home.

“Kids are very curious,” Kim-John said.  “They will ask, ‘Can I do this at home?  Can I build this?  Can you buy me this chemical?’  A lot of times the easy answer is, ‘Sorry, I cannot; I don’t have access to that stuff.’  The better answer is, ‘Sure, let’s go to Home Depot.’  Sometimes you may not have access to an amazing program like this (at Bethany Baptist Church), but that does not mean that the learning has to stop.”

Parents can find resources online.  Many websites have science projects that require simple materials that can be purchased at local stores, or be found around the home.  Parents should also ask their child’s teachers about projects that they can do at home.

“One of the best resources for parents is teachers,” Kim-John said.  “Teachers are amazing hubs for resources.  They know their content.  If parents asks teachers what they can recommend, they know what will engage a child.”

Bethany Baptist Church will encourage children to participate in STEM programs throughout the year, as well as other academic subjects.  They are putting together an after school program so that parents will know that their children are at a safe place where they are learning and getting their homework done.  

Bethany Baptist Church of West L.A. is located at 4115 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.  Contact them at (323) 296-7223, or visit their website at www.bethanywla.com.  Contact UCLA Center X at (310) 825-4910 or visit their website at www.centerx.gseis.ucla.edu.


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