By Max Virani
Some days it really kicks-in how privileged we are to be serving on the MXP. Yesterday we returned to the Genesis Women’s Shelter in Dallas where we got to meet and work with eleven amazing children. My brother, Tycho, was teaching them how to program LEGO robots to compete in sumo matches. We have to be very careful with this activity. Because this is a pushing match between robots, we want to make sure it doesn’t trigger aggressive behavior in the kids. Before going there, we talked with our lead instructor about what to be mindful of.
We had to recognize that most of these precious children have witnessed and directly experienced family trauma of a sort beyond what we can even imagine. On top of that, we happened to be an all-male teaching team yesterday. We know that their trauma was likely inflicted by men, so it becomes that much more important to show them that men can be gentle and kind. Our few hours with them can’t heal their hurt. That’s the long hard undertaking of their mothers and the staff and volunteers at Genesis. But we can at least help inch their efforts along as we try to show these kids that they can also learn to be creative with technology.
It turned out to be a wonderful visit. On this day the kids were beautifully bright and engaged. We have to preserve their anonymity, so I’ll make up some names and substitute photos. In the younger group, Michael and May were a dynamic duo. They were so impressed with the vehicle, they thought it must be worth a million dollars! Then they decided they wanted to own it. May asked, “What’ll it take to put it in our hands?” Natural wheelers and dealers. May must have been about 9 years old, but she grasped the programming activity like a natural. She taught her companions how the ultrasonic sensors work in the same way that bats echo-locate.
I was teaching digital modelling and 3D printing to Nadia and Maya who, though not related, were bonded like sisters. They bounced back and forth between their laptops, helping each other out at every step in the process. They decided to engrave their names with “BFFL” on the keychain medallions they created. When they exchanged their medallions, I believed they would remain best friends for life. Derek was a bit younger and he’d used a 3D printer once before. But now that he got to got to work on his own design, he tore into the lesson with unbridled energy. After he completed his medallion, he moved on to designing a house. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become an architect one day.
The resilience and delight we saw in these children was amazing. Our thanks go out to the families and staff at Genesis for allowing us to join them for one promising day in their journeys forward. We look forward to seeing them again.
The MXP is Dallas City of Learning‘s Mobile Tech XPerience. This rolling STEM classroom allows us to take the highest quality STEM experiences directly into under-served neighborhoods. It’s one small part of DCOL’s mission to address the opportunity gap faced by thousands of disadvantaged families.