Program Profile: Sociedad Latina Offers Youth Led STEAM Experiences that Build Creativity and Cultural Pride

sl-outside-2Integrating academic support and hands-on art and design learning experiences, the Sociedad Latina STEAM Team provides Latino middle school students with opportunities to develop math and science skills while engaging in self-expression and celebrating their shared cultural heritage. STEAM Team offers youth a space to collaborate, solve problems, and take ownership of projects, creating experiences that support critical thinking and promote strong relationships and student leadership.

“Our mission is to build the next generation of Latino leaders that are confident, competent, and proud of their cultural heritage,” says Jenna Nackel, STEAM Manager at Sociedad Latina. “There are not a lot of Latinos in STEM, and this can help us develop that piece of their identity as potentially people who want to study STEM in high school or college.”

sl-steamThe Sociedad Latina STEAM Team operates as an afterschool program at the Timilty Middle School, with a second program located at the Umana Academy slated to launch in early 2017. During STEAM Team programs, student access an hour of academic support through volunteer mentors followed by an hour of hands-on project based learning. This year, STEAM Team  programming includes Video Production and Design Lab.

“We have some really exciting curriculum and clubs that we are offering to kids this year with Video Production and Design Lab,” says Nackel.  “They are really hands on and I am really looking forward to seeing kids trying out this curriculum and seeing how it engages them.”

Students participating in Video Production will be tasked with building their own television network from the ground up. They will be responsible for developing content like news programs, dramas, and reality shows, as well as handling technical aspects of television production like filming and editing video and sound. During Design Lab, students will develop consumer products and work together to solve engineering challenges like building bridges and designing boats to withstand the strain of heavy cargo.

sl-youth-voiceSTEAM Team aims to allow youth to actively shape learning experiences. Each project this year is designed to leave ample room for youth to direct outcomes in a real way. For example, in Video Production, students have the ability to focus television programs on issues that they are passionate about and topics that they are interested in. During Design Lab, students designing consumer goods will interview each other and design products that satisfy the needs of their peers. Facilitators of these projects are encouraged to stay aware of youth interests and are given the freedom to introduce new prompts that address ideas youth bring to the table.

“It definitely increases the students’ level of engagement and as well as their attendance and participation,” says Nackel. “Middle schoolers are at an age where they have a lot of things they can do after school. They come here willingly; they’re old enough that their parents don’t need childcare for them, per say, so they are coming because they enjoy it. When they have more choices and feel like they are heard more it makes them invite their friends and come back more and feel some sort of ownership of the program.”

sl-youth-outsideIn STEAM Team, opportunities for youth to take on leadership and responsibility are not limited to the projects themselves. Youth are active in shaping program culture and day to day operations, leading activities like opening and closing rituals that build relationships and a sense of community. This year, 8th graders returning to the STEAM Team program will form a leadership council to provide student input on things like new hires, program schedule, and topics for future projects. These opportunities for real responsibility and decision making are paramount to developing student investment in the program and allowing youth to build skills that boost achievement in STEAM and beyond.

A high degree of youth leadership and investment in program culture also serves one of Sociedad Latina’s top priorities: building strength and cohesion within the Latino community in Boston. In order to further this goal, Sociedad Latina is also purposeful in creating opportunities for families of STEAM Team students to get involved. This year, STEAM Team will host two culminating events, one in December and a second in May. During these events, students will showcase their work and participate in STEAM activities alongside their parents hosted by outside organizations like Mass General Hospital, Mass Art, and the Museum of Science.

sl-showcase“There is a lot of research that shows that, in terms of parent engagement, it’s really good to have students and parents do activities side by side,” says Nackel. “Parents and students will go around to each activity, complete it together, and get a ticket for each one they do together which we enter into a raffle that we pull at the end of the night.”

Because STEAM Team is one of the first Sociedad Latina programs Latino youth can access as they enter adolescence, it serves not only as a vehicle to keep students on track academically and help them develop perseverance, teamwork, and leadership skills, but as an introduction to Sociedad Latina and a way for students and families to deepen connections to the broader Latino community. Once students become a part of Sociedad Latina, they can continue to access support and enriching experiences with the organization through high school.

sl-family“We really see our middle school program as a chance to get to know students, and a chance to get to know their families, in the hopes that they come back and work with us again when they are in high school,” says Nackel. “The program that we are maybe most known for is our youth leader program which is an employment program where the students get paid by us to participate in work readiness workshops and community advocacy in our neighborhood around issues like health education; right now we’re doing a plastic bag campaign. We also have a group of musicians that take lessons and then perform in the community. A lot of STEAM kids in the past have gone on to be a part of that program.”

Ultimately, Sociedad Latina’s mission is to empower Latino youth to come together and effect change in Boston.

“We try to think of them as potential change-makers in their communities, so we look at issues that their communities are facing and think of prompts or projects that put students in the position to address those issues.”


Join Sociedad Latina as they celebrate Latino Heritage month with a series of open mic events showcasing youth and adult artists.

Thursdays from 5 to 6:30 pm ending October 13th

1530 Tremont St., Roxbury, MA 02120