Solving the Puzzle by the Bay

Silicon Valley represents the cutting edge of technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship in today’s new economy. The brightest and best from around the globe — armed with the highest degrees from the most prestigious universities — have flooded the Bay Area. They bring proprietary code, algorithms, apps and hope to get seed funding, secure a Series A round, and someday strike it rich. But for many Bay Area residents, this modern technology Gold Rush left them on the outside, looking in. ASAS Bay Area is looking for ways to close the opportunity gap through innovative programming.

ASAS Bay Area offers 800 hours of programming every year, and by leveraging that time to equip students with the skills to flex their creative muscles and technical skills, this new economy can be a more inclusive and open one for Bay Area residents.

When ASAS came to Claremont Middle School, an East Bay commuter school in the Rockridge neighborhood, one of the goals was to equip students with the skills needed to take their take place in the valley’s booming economy. By creating a program couched in workforce development and mentorship, this enables students to develop and code and collaborate with their peers in wealthier neighborhoods.

Brothers Alejandro and Eric exemplify how the student population embraces this career-focused mindset. They were initially thrilled to have the opportunity to play football and weren’t interested in the other program offerings. One day after school, they saw the Maker Space demonstration in action, and it piqued their interest. They enrolled and quickly through ASAS and built a connection with the program mentors. The Maker Space program started as a twice a week offering, and by the time a third day was added, Alejandro and Eric were excelling, so much so, that they began participating in a teaching assistant capacity. This year, they are working on a large-scale screen printing operation to provide physical education gear for their classmates.

This passion for honing technical skills led them to create projects outside the classroom. In addition to the IheartOakland postcards, buttons, and clocks that he designed (and sold, as part of the entrepreneurial and business development element of the Maker Space Program), Alejandro is currently working on developing puzzles, a particularly tricky technical exercise. Beyond the scope of the program, Alejandro is driven to “solve” puzzles after being exposed to technology and design. Meanwhile, Eric’s middle school graduation is approaching, and he’s hoping that the Oakland school lottery system will land him a desk in Oakland Technical High School’s math and science program.

Their interest in building technical skills has grown beyond the Maker Space. Both brothers enrolled in the permaculture class. In addition to learning how to create balms and salves from the herbs they grow, rosewater creams and candles, it’s complemented their maker mindset and added lessons in sustainability.

Richmond is another East Bay ASAS site where there is a tremendous need to serve the current student population. The Maker Space program has been wildly popular there as well, and indeed, in all ASAS school sites across the Bay, students are being exposed to the skills and mentors that will foster a creator mindset. At Richmond, students have designed coffee tables, chess tables, and other large-scale furniture.

Due to rampant gentrification in the Bay Area including some parts of the East Bay (where Claremont Middle School is located) rents are rising and local families displaced. This trend has impacted Rockridge significantly. Claremont’s Federal Free and Reduced Cost lunch program, a standard indicator of poverty, plummeted from 74% to 45% over the course of the two years since ASAS launched there in 2016. The student demographic has dramatically changed, and parents that a few years ago would have opted to enroll their student in a private school are now registering at Claremont, thanks to the school’s impressive academics gains. With ASAS’ mission to serve the most underserved students, ASAS Bay Area is now looking to move out of Claremont and into a school with more unmet needs and opportunities to empower students.