learn / 2016

The Help Group's STEM3 Academy Coding, Computer & Robotics Camps for Special Learners!

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by The Help Group's STEM3 Academy

Breaking barriers to STEM education and future life options for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD and other special needs through engaging camps in robotics, coding & computers.


Please describe your project proposal.

Many special learners are underserved in STEM education. Our project reduces barriers to STEM skills for students diagnosed with autism, ADHD and other special needs by offering afterschool and summer STEM camps designed specifically for special learners. The engaging camps extend the reach of STEM3 Academy, the first K-12 school in the nation designed to build STEM competence in children with special needs, and will include programs in cyber security, robotics, coding and computers.

Which of the learn metrics will your proposal impact?​

  • College completion
  • College matriculation rates
  • District-wide graduation rates
  • Proficiency in English and Language Arts and Math
  • Student education pipeline
  • Suspension and expulsion rates
  • Youth unemployment and underemployment

In what areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South LA
  • Westside
  • South Bay
  • Gateway Cities
  • Antelope Valley
  • County of Los Angeles
  • City of Los Angeles
  • LAUSD
  • We work with more than 50 school districts

Describe in greater detail how your proposal will make LA the best place to learn?

The Help Group is known for innovative approaches to educating young people with special needs & transitioning them to fulfilling lives. Each year we serve some 6,000 students & their families with a range of services, operating ten specialized schools on six campuses across greater LA. Our most recent is a groundbreaking model school, STEM3 Academy, where we have developed a unique approach for educating special learners in STEM subjects, infusing advanced studies with 21st century skills of collaboration, critical thinking, creativity & communication. STEM3 fills a void that has been blocking many highly capable individuals from succeeding.

A staggering one of every 68 children born today is diagnosed with autism. Some 6.4 million are diagnosed with ADHD; 2.4 million with learning disabilities. Countless numbers of these children across LA are underserved in STEM education, creating barriers to future jobs in high tech industries. Since opening STEM3 Academy in 2015, we have successfully transitioned tech-savvy special learners to college, but we would like to reach more.

Our proposal is to expand the reach of STEM3 through afterschool & summer camps in coding, computers, cyber security, space, animation, robotics & more. Cultivating STEM literacy through informal programs helps students build competence, apply skills & gain confidence in a relaxed environment. We know there is a need for this among our community. STEM3 camps were piloted this summer and were embraced by children and families. Afterschool STEM pilots underway at STEM3 high school have also been enthusiastically received, with enrollments exceeding expectations. We believe no similar STEM camps for special learners exist in any city across the nation. LA2050 support will allow us to purchase supplies and hire part-time coordinator at San Fernando Valley and Westside of LA sites.

Academically, 34% of students on autism spectrum choose STEM majors, as opposed to 20% in general population. These students often have heightened pattern recognition and can focus for extended periods, traits helpful in engineering, coding, or any of the sciences. However, because most STEM programs are not designed to accommodate diverse learners, they inadvertently exclude them. Highly capable special learners often drop out of college due to poor 21st century skills and fail to live up to their promise. Studies show some 85% are either underemployed or unemployed as young adults. This signals lost opportunity for individuals and a drain on society as unemployed seek public aid; it also represents a rich, untapped resource for our city.

The Help Group’s STEM3 Academy signals a revolution in the way special leaners are educated, but also in the way they think about themselves, their futures and their roles in society. We have been innovators on ways to improve the lives of our community. Please help us reach more students across Los Angeles.

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.​

We will define success by offering STEM camps and afterschool programs at two locations for special needs students across Los Angeles. We will measure through data collected on recruitment and attendance rates; successful completion of STEM projects including robotics challenges; rates of return students. We will evaluate through questionnaires and stakeholder interviews to collect detailed information about program success. Information will be compiled and analyzed by senior staff members, who will use it to improve quality of our programs on an ongoing basis and to determine optimum methods for scaling the program to larger audiences across the autism and special needs communities.

How can the LA2050 community and other stakeholders help your proposal succeed?

  • Money
  • Volunteers
  • Publicity/awareness
  • Technical infrastructure (computers etc.)
  • Community outreach
  • Network/relationship support
  • Quality improvement research