Change Makers: Urban Youth Food Justice Ambassadors
As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This Change Makers project will establish Food Justice Ambassador corps across three cities in Massachusetts where youth will install, manage and learn the science and technology underlying hydroponics. The project takes a near-peer mentoring approach that empowers high school youth to take the lead in improving ethnic minority and low-income residents' access to healthy produce and to help educate middle school youth regarding the value of fresh produce in one's diet by learning the science of hydroponics. Youth will create story maps to visualize food accessibility in their communities. High school youth will work with their communities to establish hydroponic farms in middle school after-school settings. The food that is grown will be provided to the community through farmers' markets. Youth will share their work with a larger community of urban farmers at the Massachusetts Urban Farming Conference. This project seeks to understand the contribution on youth development by the model's three components: (1) STEM learning embedded in a social justice framework, (2) near-peer mentoring, and (3) youth purpose and career development. This will enable researchers to better understand how the project enables youth to learn STEM skills; apply them to a real life problem; learn the relevance of STEM skills for addressing personal, career aspiration, and social justice issues; develop a sense of purpose and aspirations related to STEM fields; and mentor other youth through the same process. The project will use a mixed-method, multi-site longitudinal study utilizing quantitative surveys, structural equation modeling, and qualitative interviews to study the intersections of the components of the project. As such, the study will address three key questions: 1) How do youth and mentors perceive and experience their roles as participants in the pedagogy? 2) What is the impact of the intervention on youth' sense of purpose, identity, career adaptability, work volition, critical consciousness, school engagement, STEM interests, and STEM intentionality? 3) What is the contribution of relational/mentoring and psychosocial/career adaptability aspects of the youths' contexts on their capacity to benefit from this program and to develop and sustain purpose and engagement in school and STEM? Most urban youth (and adults) have little knowledge of where their food comes from and have limited opportunities to learn how to grow produce as well as develop related skills that can lead to a career in a STEM field. This is particularly disconcerting as 55% of African Americans live inside central cities (90% in metropolitan areas) and over half of all Latino/as live in central cities (United States Census Bureau, 2011). This project entails the recruitment of low-income youth from populations underrepresented in science into a program where social justice concerns (food justice, food security) are illuminated, analyzed, and acted upon through the development of STEM knowledge and skills. Specifically, this project recognizes the potential for urban youth to become deeply knowledgeable citizens who can mobilize their STEM knowledge and skills to resolve social injustices such as food deserts. If successful, this project will provide a model that should be transferable to similar contexts to help broaden participation in STEM.
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