CEO of Grow With STEM LaTanya Brooks Photos: Jesus S. Azuara
LaTonya Brooks, CEO/Founder, Grow with STEM (center) with students. Photo: Jesus S. Azuara Photography

Educators are finding creative and engaging ways to prepare the future generation of youth to be the next innovators and inventors with STEM education programs.

Student boredom can be a huge challenge faced by teachers yet STEM lessons can be integrated into the daily curriculum. For example, children learn the laws of physics by stacking playing blocks together.

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LaTanya Brooks is an educator, speaker, and CEO of Grow With STEM, a platform dedicated to promoting awareness and learning by designing books that inspire children to pursue stem-related careers.

She teaches in HISD and has launched two new books to inspire at-risk youth to pursue STEM-related careers. Brooks spoke to the Defender about her work.

Defender: Where did your passion for education begin? 

Brooks: I landed in education by accident. I was transitioning into another career and teaching was something I figured would allow me to work while I studied to earn my MBA in Management. I get such gratification from helping others. I’m certified to teach business as well as technology. So, I’ve been an educator since 2007 and I love every minute of it.

Defender: What about your work with Grow With STEM?

Brooks: The reason why I decided to write books about STEM is because I was part of an initiative where [HISD was] focusing on how we can expose minority communities to STEM. Black and Brown people have to see themselves in the books I write. I felt that writing these books will allow me to not just educate my school and my district but impact the world. My books have glossary of terms activities and workbooks to go with them. I want to inspire kids to consider a career in STEM. I cover core competencies.

My book “Marisol: A Little Girl with a Big Dream” talks about math and science terms. My other book “Adam Baum: The Autistic Engineer” talks about simple machines and pulley systems. It also covers social-emotional learning components as well, because the main character Adam is autistic and the things that make him different are a gift despite being bullied, which is another topic that is discussed.

Defender: You modeled your book after ABC’s “The Good Doctor” character Shaun Murphy, an autistic surgeon. Why?

Brooks: I started to jot down all the characteristics of “The Good Doctor” that helped me shape my character for the book. The [show’s] main character is very systematic, nonchalant, very tactile, and loves working with his hands. Then I looked at different job listings and different types of engineer jobs that would fit the personality of my character. 

STEM is a hot topic in education and careers. How is it used to teach children life skills?

Brooks: I work at the Baker Montessori School…Pre-k through kindergarten I teach computers, first through sixth I teach technology, and seventh through eighth I teach a high school course called principles of information technology. They get high school credit and the opportunity to be certified.

I teach my students coding. Computer programming for example helps students to use their critical thinking skills. It teaches you to solve problems. How did you do this? Did this work? How can I do it better? The kids also go to this website called texasrealitycheck.com where they look at different careers and how much it would cost to afford a certain lifestyle with a particular career of their choosing. At the end of the survey, they receive a number that represents the amount they need to make in order to live the life that they want.

I’m a STEM advocate but I don’t preach to the kids about what careers they should and should not [pursue], but I do suggest a lot. One student told me she wanted to be a  [teacher’s assistant] when she grows up. I told her “No you don’t” and suggested she go on the website to do a reality check and she was surprised at her findings. It’s important to catch them while they are young so by the time they get into high school, they have an idea about what they want to do. High schools are set up like colleges these days and they’re focused on four-year tracks for different subjects . 

Defender: How have you been able to engage students in the classroom? 

Brooks: Engaging students in STEM is really easy. There are so many resources available. For instance, code.org is free. It provides lesson plans and curriculum and the best part about it is that you don’t have to be a programmer. All you need is common sense. HISD has done a good job providing resources, material and training for teachers who want to get into STEM. BrainPOP and Scratch are other tools as well.

Defender: What has being a Black educator taught you?  

Brooks: It has taught me that we are really appreciated by these kids. We are really needed. I teach at a very diverse school and there have been times on campus where I was the only Black teacher. Now, we have quite a few and we have a Black principal too …Kids learn from people they love and trust. Sometimes they’ll look at us and there are certain aspects that only we [as Black educators] can understand. When I was in an all-Black or majority-minority school, things were a bit different. We have to be present in these kids’ lives. We need to know what is going on with them and communicate with them.

Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...