SODA representatives invited to Antigua and Barbuda as STEM ambassadors


 Two School of Dreams Academy representatives were recently invited to Antigua and Barbuda, a sister-island country in the Caribbean, to help facilitate a STEM camp for Antiguan youth.

Antigua and Barbuda is home to roughly 97,000 people, most of whom live on the larger island of Antigua.

Rio Communities’ economic developer Ralph Mims, who has familial ties to the country, helped facilitate the relationship between the Antigua and Barbuda Ministry of Education and SODA. Mims previously served on SODA’s governing council.

“We started having conversations on what kinds of things are going on education wise in Antigua and Barbuda and what kinds of things we do at SODA, particularly STEM related stuff, and about a year ago this conversation evolved into them deciding to put together a STEM camp for their kids,” said SODA Superintendent Mike Ogas.

Pictured, from left, is Michael Griego, an ecologist based in Albuquerque, and Javier Viera, who teaches math, computer science and robotics at SODA. The duo was invited by the Antigua and Barbuda Ministry of Education to teach at a STEM camp for Antiguan youthSubmitted photos.

Through this, SODA received an invitation to send two ambassadors to Antigua to teach for a week at their 2023 STEM camp with an emphasis on climate change and sustainability. Their travel expenses were paid for by the Antigua Ministry and United States Embassy in Barbuda.

Javier Viera is among the two who attended the camp, which began in July. He teaches high school math and middle school computer science at SODA. He is also the school’s robotics coach for middle and high school and is an advisor to SODA’s Technology Student Association.

Because other STEM teachers at SODA did not have active passports, Viera decided to invite Albuquerque-based ecologist Michael Griego to accompany him. The two worked primarily with middle and high school students.

Viera said they wanted to do something hands-on and technology infused that promotes problem solving, particularly geared toward ecological problems facing the island country.

Griego said they also wanted to emphasize in their teaching student’s experiences and their cultural inheritance to contemporary problems they will be facing in their lifetimes related to climate change.

“I thought about the solar sprint competition my students do where they build a solar powered vehicle. I also wanted to incorporate coding,” said Viera. “We have this virtual robot that students can learn how to code to work within virtual environments. One of the environments the kids got to work with was a coral reef cleanup, which addresses the issue of trash and pollution ending up in the oceans.”

Viera said the kids had a blast and he was honored to be a part of the STEM camp.

“What I really enjoyed was the kids were taking what we were doing in the workshops home and continuing to explore it,” said Viera. “I recall this kid coming back the next day, all excited talking about how he went home and continued working on his robot.”

Stacey Mascall, the assistant director of education within the Antigua and Barbuda Ministry of Education, said their country is largely supported by the tourism and hospitality industry. Their economy was tremendously impacted by the COVID shutdown because of this, so they want to put more emphasis on STEM education to help diversify their economy and address big problems such as climate change.

Griego works with a student testing out his solar powered vehicle.

“The world is looking to STEM to really change things. A beach I used to visit in my childhood doesn’t really exist now because of climate change. Our children are going to have to face this,” said Mascall. “They’re going to have to live on this island in a worse off state than I did, so we want to empower our children to start thinking scientifically to address specific issues that we have here in Antigua and Barbuda.”

Shelly Galloway, an education officer within the ministry of education, said they wanted to initiate these STEM camps to encourage students to dream big and to “disrupt the narrative” through new and innovative curriculum.

“We want to provide (our students) opportunities to be innovative and nurture their curiosity,” said Galloway. “The underlying principle of the STEM camp is we want our students to go beyond the limitations of their natural environment, to know the sky’s the limit and the universe is at their fingertips.”

While these STEM camps focused primarily on secondary school students, SODA’s Pre-K Coordinator, Teresa Ogas, said collaboration is occurring in all levels of education.

“Ms. Mascall arranged for her early childhood staff to participate in a workshop through Zoom at SODA focused on early literature and language through play. We had conversations during the workshop, and now we’re sending them kits so they can have the hands-on aspect,” said Teresa. “We’re making bonds in all areas of our school and it’s pretty exciting for all of us.”

SODA and the Antigua and Barbuda Ministry of Education plan to continue a long-standing relationship of collaboration. In the near future, Ogas said they hope to have some collaborative classes through Zoom. Longer term, they aspire to have student and teacher exchanges.

“We have found a kindredship with each other to broaden all our horizons and make lots of neat things happen for students and staff,” said Ogas. “I feel blessed to have this relationship with Antigua and Barbuda, and this is something that I think is going to be very beneficial for all of us in the long run and we’re looking forward to continuing this relationship.”

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