Ronnie Thomas Discusses the Importance of STEM Programs
It seems that much of today’s news would have you believing the hype about the future of African American males being bleak. There are shootings all over the news. There is talk about the high rates of high school dropouts and absent black fathers. There is even a push for more educators of color because we are lacking them. Honestly, looking at the news, it can be downright depressing. It doesn’t have to be though. Every now and again, if you look in your backyard, you can find a story not only worth writing about, but one that is literally changing lives.
One gentleman in particular is hell bent on making sure to not only make a difference, but blaze a whole new trail for as many youth as he can. Ronnie Thomas, of Atlanta is just that man. He is the founder of Fun Weird Science, an Atlanta based initiative to help kids look at science and robotics from a hands on perspective. He’s not the stereotypical guy with 3 inch thick glasses and two pocket protectors either. Not that there is anything wrong with those guys, but he is an example of how you can have fun and love science. This dad of three has truly taken science and robotics to an entirely different level. He even had me wishing I could have taken his workshop!
I ran into Ronnie at the 2014 Atlanta Cares StemFest. I’d enrolled my son who was interested in STEM based initiatives expecting to meet some great parents and have a few chats while we waited for our kids to complete workshops. A 15 year veteran educator, Mr. Thomas prides himself on reaching kids through the use of robotics and science. His ultimate goal is to replicate his program in all 50 states creating a free program for all instead of the fee-based program he now has while awaiting his non-profit status.
To change the dynamic in any community you must first be open to acknowledging not everyone is happy with the status quo. When you allow yourself to understand not everyone lives or thinks a like you it gives more opportunities to broaden horizons on both sides. In this program he currently has 95% African American children approximately 3% Indian and another 2% Bi-Racial. These kids deserve just as much of a chance to participate in a STEM program as anyone else; but, it takes people like Ronnie willing to give these kids who are often at the top of their class a chance to see things through a new type of scientific eye.
Ronnie believes that today’s school systems need an overhaul. Though quite appreciative of the administrators he’s worked with personally, he says many schools nationwide could benefit from realizing “You can’t teach school like you did in the 1950’s. Programs are behind in funding. We will do better when you spend more money per student in school than you do per person in prison.” He also feels the greatest obstacle in schools is that “We need a paradigm shift in what we place importance on in education. Kids lose interest because they are reading science instead of doing science.”
Whether involved with his 6 week summer enrichment courses, or weekend programs throughout the year, students have benefited enormously from STEM programs like this. The sad part is when funding begins to dry up the students suffer. Ronnie has made it his mission to make sure that doesn’t happen to the kids in the Atlanta area. There’s not a moment he’s not thinking about how to gain more funding through sponsorships to ensure the future of the program. He continues to dedicate himself to teaching why science is just as important as technology, engineering and math while he helps his students paint the canvas of their minds in a fun, weird science kind of way.