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$110,000 grant allows Metro Deaf School computer science programs to expand and thrive

In Communities that KARE we celebrate a partnership between two schools that's opening up a digital world of opportunity for deaf and deaf-blind students.

SAINT PAUL, Minnesota — A spark of joy during childhood could lead to a passion that lasts a lifetime. "It all starts with play. I feel like it's exploration, it's discovery and play at the beginning."

That's the ultimate goal of the collaboration between the Metro Deaf School in Saint Paul and the University of St. Thomas' Playful Learning Lab, which brings STEAM outreach to these children.

"The kids really enjoy it. They learn from doing, from being," explained Susan Outlaw, the Metro Deaf School's Executive Director. 

She works with the team from the Playful Learning Lab and Professor AnnMarie Thomas to find creative and engaging ways to get students interested in computer science. "This could be working with circuses to teach physics or designing a way to sculpt electrical circuits or working with the rock band "OK Go" to use their music videos to create lesson plans for teachers around the world," explained Thomas.

Now Google is expanding the opportunities with a $110,000 grant. 

One of the goals is to broaden participation and research in computational thinking and computer science in the K-12 education systems. 

Another goal is to provide stipends to Metro Deaf School teachers and staff working at night and taking extra classes and workshops. "Teachers are my heroes, so thanks to this grant we're able to compensate teachers for the extra work that it takes to train and to learn these different programming languages and robotics tools, and then create custom class exercises and lesson plans that they'll bring to Metro Deaf School," said Thomas.

Outlaw says this opportunity with Google will help the students at Metro Deaf School have an equal playing field when it's time to tap into the tech industry. "I want to set our kids up to be very competitive and to do anything they want in any profession."

Thomas couldn't agree more, saying, "This is super exciting to me because engineering is all about creating new things that haven't existed before."

Bringing in children who experience the world a little differently could mean a brighter future for everyone. "Someday, you know I [will] see at St. Thomas, in my engineering classes, some of the folks who might have been kindergartners in the coding class a decade ago; That's the dream," said Thomas.

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