Now more than ever, building opportunities in technology is crucial to the success of our students. In 2018, The National Science Foundation reported that African Americans and Latinos are underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers. Combined, Latino and African Americans make up just less than 11 percent of the science and engineering workforce in the United States. Our network is committed to changing that narrative by helping students see themselves as the great scientists, engineers, or inventors we know they have the potential to become. At Ánimo Westside Charter Middle School, one teacher is sparking student curiosity in tech and eliminating academic barriers through app creation, 3D printing and fabrication, art, and music.
“My goal is to make classes as cool and exciting as possible,” said Spencer Bray, the technology teacher at Ánimo Westside. Bray ensures science is both accessible and engaging by challenging students to come up with solutions to real world problems.Through our partnership with Project Lead The Way, we have been able to provide science teachers like Bray, with unique technology certifications and intensive curriculum support. Today he leverages his knowledge, resources, and his skills to help students develop the 21st century skills necessary for careers in STEM.
Bray often reflects on his own life path in the development of his students. “I don’t have the usual work experience leading up to becoming a teacher,” Bray said. “But I definitely use a lot of my past in the classroom.” Bray, who has taught technology at Ánimo Westside for 5 years, previously managed information technology in a healthcare setting, spearheaded product development at a startup company, and independently worked as a private investigator. Navigating technology, Bray said, is what tied his careers together.
Through Project Lead The Way, Bray has been certified to teach middle school technology courses in design and modeling, computer science, app development, and medical detectives. “I'm super passionate about pushing career ready skills at this age right now,” Bray said. “And I think it's important to show them that what you're building today, is what you're going to use in your career tomorrow.”
All of these exciting assignments take place in Ánimo Westside’s built out technology lab, where students learn technology during the day—and are able to learn even more after school. On the classroom whiteboard, Bray marks up whiteboard art to illustrate lessons that often encapsulates his appreciation for Garfield the Cat.
Though in-class projects often amaze his students, one of their favorite aspects of his classes is 3D printing. Recently, Ánimo Westside received a grant from SoCal Gas and Chevron to purchase a 3D printer. Bray passes out 3D printed dinosaur and animal trinkets to students throughout the day. “All of these assignments and these lessons are all about inspiring students,” Bray said. “Doing fun activities like this puts the effort upfront, and helps the students feel like an equitable partner.”
Philip Parker, a science curriculum specialist at Green Dot Public Schools California, admires the unique and effective teaching style that Bray has brought to Ánimo Westside. “Spencer has been a leader in the implementation. He’s a very innovative person who we can rely on to support other people in their development. We can count on Spencer always being there with new, fresh ideas,” Parker said. “Through his technology courses, our middle school students have different opportunities to learn and solve real world problems.”
From Tech to Music
While Ánimo Westside’s technology lab is adorned with high-end technology, it’s also outfitted with a drum set, electric bass, guitars, and a stack of buckets. “We have a music club, and the main entry level is just bucket drumming,” Bray said. “I give music lessons, a quick 15 to 20 minutes, whether it's lunch, after school—or whenever I have a group of students that are interested.” Drumming buckets have become an entry point for many Ánimo Westside students to explore creative avenues for creating music, especially on a budget or on the fly. “Everyone can pick up rhythm really quickly; it’s kind of intuitive,” Bray said. “It’s a lot of fun and the students love it.”
At the end of the day, Bray said he pulls much of his strength as an educator from the immense support he receives from school leaders at Ánimo Westside. When considering all of his careers, teaching has been the most rewarding, Bray said. “Teaching pushes me to invest in myself because if I don't, if I'm not invested in it, and if I don't have the passion, this job is impossible. I have to be 100% in it, and no other job has ever pushed me to do that.”
Our network thrives on building educational partnerships that help our students and educators thrive. Through the help of organizations like Project Lead The Way, we’re helping to bridge academic gaps between our students and STEM, while advancing career exploration and unlocking the transformative potential of all students.