Preparing Students in the Early Childhood Sector: An Innovation Model to Close the Preparation Gap in the AC-Stage of Education

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Lj Henderson is the owner and founder of the Little STEM Academy. She is an education professional with over 25 years of experience in the ESL, early childhood education and speech therapy. She is an advocate for STEM education and the great benefits it has in forming the future leaders of the world through critical thinking, innovation and problem-solving. Lj is a firm believer that it is important to introduce children to new concepts and let them explore and experiment them as a way of learning.

Dr. Michael Conner

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening and welcome to another episode of Voices for Excellence. I am your host, Dr. Michael Conner, CEO and founder of the Agile Evolutionary Group and proud host of VFE. Once again, welcome to our Black Excellence series, and happy Black History Month. And today’s guest is one of the best you are going to find. She is the owner and founder of the Little STEM Academy. Now you’re going to hear about this innovate a model. You’re going to hear about the dynamic things that she is doing in the early childhood education world out of Pearland, Texas. That is near, right next to Houston, where everybody wants to know where that is. And you will see why she exhibits and exemplify black excellence. I want to welcome to VFE and the Black Excellence Series. Ms. LJ Henderson. LJ, How are you, sister? How’s everything? ‘

Lj Henderson

Everything is good. Everything is good. It is stem-tastic, as I like to say, it is stem-tastic.

Dr. Michael Conner

Stem-tastic, absolutely. And to my audience you will see the excellence, right? The the intellect, the research background, everything that you can think of. But the you know how I am. I am a disrupter. And I love disruptive models and specifically preparing our students for the future of Delta 2030. Really unwrap and specific I would just say constructivist skills. Disruptive as I like to say, pedagogy to ensure that we’re preparing students for problem solving critical thinking that really in-depth conceptual thinking. And now you will see why I love allergies modeled the Lotus STEM Academy, but we’re going to get into that. So you ready, LJ? Black Excellence.

Lj Henderson

I’m ready. I’m ready. Try to stay ready. Try to stay ready.

Dr. Michael Conner

Listen, LJ, the structure of the episode, right, is just us having a conversation. I want my audience, my viewers and my listeners to unwrap your strategy specifically around the early childhood education model that we are going to talk about that I am absolutely enamored with. If it was up to me, I would have every single preschool in America have a model that is similar to use, but we’ll get into that in a minute. But this is the easy question. I’ll take it. As the owner and founder of the Little STEM Academy, what equity and excellence song define your work in the education ecosystem?

Lj Henderson

I think right now my song is because I believe that we do have enough educators and innovators and creators to turn things around that have been kind of topsy turvy. I think we’re going to be all right. So I think we’re going to be all right. Right, right. So I think with having. All right. As long as we continue to have conversations like this that move the needle academically and we continue to shine light on those of us that are doing the great work, especially at early childhood and beyond, for black children, black and brown students, particularly in the area of STEM. I think we’re going to be I. So that’s nice. All right. Now we’re going to be alright.

Dr. Michael Conner

Lj, we going to be all right. Because if you think about it right, specifically the focus that you put on early childhood education, I know that there’s a very bold vision as you move forward, the expansion, looking at deepening and strengthening the model. But yes, we are going to be all right if we really look at the new dynamics of the state of education, especially how we’re preparing our students at early onset. Right. I always have this level of reciprocity between the achievement gap and the preparation gap. You are put in that systemic focus on closing the preparation gap. And if we continue to do work like you’re doing now and take it down to Texas, in the Houston area and Berlin, we are definitely going to be all right. But now I’ve been highlighting a talking about the little STEM academy. Okay. Everywhere I go, anywhere I can go, whether it be here domestically and even internationally, LJ. I am bragging about your model. And you know what? It is comical because one of the misnomers when we actually that when we actually met each other about a year ago, year and a half ago now, right? Well, yeah, time flies about around that time. Any time I bring up your model to anybody, the first question that I ask, LJ, and I know that you say, isn’t that too hard or rigorous for the baby? Yeah, I’m with you. The word ain’t, no it ain’t. It is the level of conceptual rigor that we want to have our early sector engage a to prepare them long to from a longitudinal manner. But the World STEM Academy. Right. It is a unique model with that emphasis on cultivating skims STEM skills and competencies within the early childhood sector. This truly, in my opinion, is subject to fully, in objectively and objectively defined in equity innovation design, specifically closing the gap and specific contextual areas access right access and specifically awareness at the early onset. Specifically before you enter your kindergarten year. Amazing. Now, for my listeners, for my viewers who are not familiar with the little STEM Academy model, can you unpack that for my viewers and then also explain the impact that is having in the Houston area and now nationally?

Lj Henderson

Yes. So our model is unique in the fact that we’re right now, I believe, the only pre-K STEM school that I know of. There are schools that have STEM, but we are specifically pre-K. And the reason that we start at age three and we go through tender is because, like you said, there is achievement gap, but there is a preparation gap. And so many students who are starting school ill prepared early childhood centers oftentimes did not have the leadership or the education to actually give students what they need to have those early foundational skills so that when they go to tender, they’ll be successful having worked as a pediatric speech therapist for a number of years, I’ve seen the inequity in students who lack that early preparation, and I really saw it, as you would like to say. I think it was I don’t know if it’s D.C. during COVID, or AC after COVID, but I don’t know. I don’t know all the acronyms, but I really it was during COVID where I saw students were falling behind who were already not doing too well. But the gaps became larger during COVID, specifically in the area of math and science. And so I have always done a good job, I think, of preparing my kids. When our students leave us, they’re prepared. But now I had school age children, first and second graders who didn’t know basic addition and subtraction skills. I had schools within my community that weren’t doing science at all. And then how do we expect our students to be able to keep up with rigor and problem solving and learning and wanting to learn and end up in these STEM related careers if we don’t give them that early foundation? And that’s what inspired me to start the Little STEM Academy. I started putting together lab kits and resources for students to strengthen their math skills, strength in their science skills, talking to parents, talking to other early childhood providers, doing all of this work. And I’m like, We need a place. We need a place to develop young minds specifically in the area of STEM so that this can be no more. And so nationally, that is what I’m doing now. And I don’t know if you caught the episode, but one of our former STEM scholars was actually on the Jennifer Hudson show two weeks ago, is now a mensa scholar. He now heads joined the ranks of geniuses through the organization called Mensa. And nationally, people were like, Wow, this kid can do X, Y, and Z. That was a former STEM scholar at the Little STEM Academy. And he actually started with us when he was at the age of three.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And LJ, I can tell you this. Yes, I did see that. I was smiling. I said, man, Jennifer Hudson, if that’s the output that, you know, you’re you got your former students going on the Jennifer Hudson show. Yes. We got to roll. And everybody. So. Right. Because the way you unwrapped it and to my audience, we LJ we use this as a professional learning mechanism, right? Asynchronous learning where they can go back, apply specific strategy skills, go deeper with specific answers and sentiments that my guess shared with us. You know, and this answer to my audience really unpacks the why, why the intentionality of the why we have to close the preparation gap. If you think about it. LJ you alluded in your answer, during, that yes, D.C. is right. During COVID at that stage, we’ve learned an immense amount about the education model, about our pedagogies, about where we need to focus. I like to say within the inclusive triangle, this is going to be my new research family, students and communities. Right? And you went out into the community. You wanted to understand what the problem was and a deeper context. You alluded to the early foundational gap, right? Really foundational gap. We can go talk about the heart and recently study. We can talk about a myriad of different brain base or research studies. Of course, that’s your area of expertise. And we were sitting because of those gaps, right? We were seeing students that had even more exact or I should say, exacerbating. Exacerbating, Yeah, yeah, yep. Because of COVID. And now you suggested that, you know, and I still see this even at the elementary sector is that the time equivalency for science education, especially developing core competencies within science and math, is either a emulates procedural instruction which only develops foundational skills or procedural skills in math and then science. We’re still not preparing our students for hands on experience or learning. So within all of that, your model captures that. And to my audience, please, because if we’re truly, truly dedicated, we want to close the achievement gap. There needs to be a root cause, analysis and an intentional focus by strengthening this this strategy around early childhood education. Phenomenal, phenomenal, phenomenal model, phenomenal outputs. LJ, that’s why I’m a huge, huge, huge fan of the little STEM Academy. Now, you only talked about one. This is a sub variant of a question. You only talk about one of your students. But for my audience, I wanted to know the aggregate. You’re outputs that you are generating from this model because it’s absolutely exceptional. I know one data metric that you highlighted is that when your students leave the Little STEM Academy, they’re on a second grade level. Unbelievable. But can you just elaborate more with some of your success metrics from the loss STEM Academy?

Lj Henderson

Yeah. So when our students leave us so far we’ve had at least 87% success rate with our students testing at least a grade level above their peers when they go to not only our neighboring district, but when they’ve gone to like even charter schools or any other entity, private schools, where they have to take some form of an assessment test in order to decide where they will be place, all of our students have actually placed at least one grade level above. There was one student that did not, and that student did have a lot of absenteeism. Mom was like a travel nurse and she was missing some school here and there. But I think the other unique thing about our model and why we’ve had that success rate, which I didn’t share with you earlier, is because of who was delivering the instruction. So in most early childhood centers, we have early childhood providers that may be degreed or not agree or may have just been working at early child hood for 30 years. Like my mom used to work, but not really degree professionals. But at the Little STEM Academy, we actually have medical students on our team. We have engineers on our team, we have degree professionals. And when I hire for the school, I hire for a specific skill set. So our art instruction is delivered by a degreed art teacher. So she finds art activities that are related to the STEM topics that the students are exploring in the laboratory. So they’re doing an engineering project. They’re also going to now do an art project related to engineering. So and when they go into my STEM lab, they have a biomedical engineer who happens to be a veteran who is actually delivering that particular instruction. Today they did electrical engineering when they actually got to touch batteries and wires and actually make things ignite. So that’s the level of instruction. And then to build that foundation, that core academics, I have early childhood providers that are well versed in ILA English language arts. They can make certain that they have those reading precursors that they’ll need. So when they get into the STEM lab and everything just kind of works together. And I think that that is the key and that is why our school has been so successful, not just because we have early childhood providers, but we have skilled professionals and degreed professionals in most instances, actually delivering that instruction. And we’ve also been able to support some of our local universities and hire a computer scientist who actually does coding with our students. So I think if more schools can develop that model, we will see more student success.

Dr. Michael Conner

Unbelievable. I would say, and to my audience just want to unwrap that from a design standpoint, conditions, right? LJ the Little STEM Academy, they defy traditional conditions where they have this hybrid of what we would say, you know, traditional teachers, ELA math. But the higher the hiring of additional practitioners that are experts, domain expertise, technical expertise, pedagogical expertise in that specific area of STEM to deliver instruction to LJ students. Unbelievable the environment I went down there in Houston where I saw it is not your traditional operating model conditions where structures emulate the industrial age. Right? She has a line the environment as if it was a laboratory, so the actual students are filling that. We want to talk about conditional data as well. And you see LJ wearing the lab coat or students uniforms. Our little scientist, which is phenomenal, is culturally responsive teaching where now where they’re adapting to the environment that they’re in and a university partner to be able to support the Little STEM Academy and its curriculum. You want to talk about changing the conditions to structures and systems within an operating model? Yes, this divides it. This divides what innovation and excellence look like? LJ, unbelievable. I tell you, I don’t know of many preschool models. That’s why I’m so excited about the Little STEM Academy and highlighting your work on VFE, because we need nontraditional models like this in order to be in alignment with the A-C stage of education and also the 56 competencies, or I should say, Delta competencies that are outlined in the McKinsey study, where the traditional model only covers two of those domains. You’ll get you got a sister, you cover all four domains with that. But let’s go to the next question, because me, as like I can say this, this would be a perfect case study. Yeah, perfect.

Lj Henderson

We’re looking for researchers, We’re looking for researchers. So if any of you listeners are interested in researching early childhood and to help us prove that early introduction really does lead to academic gains, look, it’s up to you to connect it.

Dr. Michael Conner

Please connect with LJ, because I’m telling you, this model, I thought I thought I had a disruptive model when I was executive leader, not like yours or LJ way, but you just completely what the model, which I’m proud of. You bet, sister. But going on to the next question, right? You’re a researcher at heart. Okay? And there’s a memory of research focused on early childhood education. We’re closing the preparation gap that we talked about before. So the initial achievement gap won’t exist at the outset of the kindergarten experience. We see already the gap, right When we talk about I always look at the initial data baseline for, all right, where does the achievement gap start and is right there and it continues to exacerbate. We know that from a research and even a statistical standpoint. But based on your now knowledge, LJ, as an innovation change agent in early childhood expert, what are your critical takeaways to deepen and strengthen the work to eradicate the continuum of the pre school to prison pipeline?

Lj Henderson

Wow. I think literacy in all aspects. So most of the time when we think about literacy and we just think of language arts, but I also think math literacy, because it’s one thing for a student to be able to read, but it’s another thing for them to be able to interpret data. And so I see if students are able to truly think critically and problem solve, they will have a better I would say, trajectory academically, which will alleviate the prison pipeline. If they had that early foundation. I think then math really does play a key role in the development of children are more than just numbers, right. Like really understanding it our students oftentimes he can call words, but then they can’t do word problems they can’t problem solve. So I think the STEM integration really hitting heavy on math and making certain that they understand mathematical concepts, because those mathematical concepts or the root for all things stem. So really beefing up their math literacy by combining that with the language literacy, I think that that will help reduce that preschool to prison pipeline and make certain the students have an early foundation, because if they leave us and they’re already a grade level above their peers, they’re not going to fall behind. They’re going to do well when any type of assessment, standardized or non standardized. And so they just are already on a higher, higher level than their peers if they have that early foundation in math, literacy and language.

Dr. Michael Conner

I appreciate that, LJ and I want you to unpack that a little bit more because again, when we talk about, you know, disruption, you just highlight it. I like to say a conceptual thinking or a theoretical underpinning that we always talk about is early literacy, right? And we know that’s important. But many of my listeners and even viewers out there, including me, yes. LJ In the conversations that we have, math literacy or it but it’s really not in the continuum of conversation when we talk about, you know, ending or eradicating the preschool to prison pipeline and what she touched upon was really now moving away from that procedural fluency of just understanding basic numbers to really going in depth, you know, with regards to conceptual understanding, which you even said it interpreting data. Yes to my audience. LJ, students at age three and four can interpret data, right? They are going in depth with key STEM skills. And when we talk about STEM integration, I want to highlight that LJ with and by 2030, 600,000 jobs are going to be available your sites by 2030, 300,000 jobs are going to be available. And the I.T. software engineering area, you are so critically correct, right? When we look at math literacy now, I really want you now, if you can. This is a sub very question of math literacy. Can you unpack that for me? What is what does that look like at the early childhood sector?

Lj Henderson

So with our students, we they have so I just work with a huge group of Head Start teachers and their scope and sequence required the students to, of course, rote count, which is just a memory skill. It’s not really a mindset skill, it’s a memory skill. But they also wanted them to understand cardinality. So then with my students I’m like, We need to learn how to super tax. And people are like, what’s supersizing? So supersizing is the ability to see a number without having to physically count it. So let’s just say if we had a ladybug and I showed you a ladybug that had nine dots and I ask you how many you should be able to tell me nine. That’s without knowing why. Two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. So those are the kinds of things that we use in our lab so that our students have that. Who for knowledge. And so when it comes to harder skills like multiplying, dividing and fractions, they can see it without having to physically count it. Now we do use counters because our babies are little. They need manipulatives, but we want to really strengthen their mental math skills as well. And so they’re introduced to money. They’re introduced to fractions, they’re introduced to temperature. Last week they were we brought in a variety of things for them to measure. So we brought in a weight scale for them to measure different types of fruits and vegetables. We also brought in a physical scale for them to stand on and to see their weight, and then they had to convert their weight to whatever the STEM instructor wanted them to do. So they had to take their pounds and convert it to a different type of weight. So now they’re seeing numbers and they’re hearing words like kilometers, meters, all of these higher level vocabulary than most three and four year olds will never experience. No one is asking them how much they weigh unless they go to the annual checkup, but they’re not even involved in that particular conversation. They don’t really have an opportunity to weigh things. So some of our homework for our parents and what does math literacy look like at home, grocery shopping with your students, having them actually weigh the quantity? How many pounds of these two oranges weigh? Yes, you can get a 4 lbs bag, but what how many large navel oranges will it take to be equivalent to a 4 lbs bag of ten oranges? Those kinds of things that we try to expose our families to so that now literacy is happening beyond the classroom and at home, which goes back to your model of homeschool community.

Dr. Michael Conner

Unbelievable, LJ. The math literacy, you want to talk about it, triangulation, instructional rigor, conceptual rigor and academic rigor and the heart and recently study with regards to the 30 million word gap in your intentionality around vocabulary development, essential for student development, essential for math comprehension to reach those levels with it. With regards to math literacy and traditional standard literacy that we’re talking about. And then, yes, the inclusive triangle, family literacy and community capital. Unbelievable, LJ. You’re doing wonders and going into the next question, great segway. Now I can see why you are honored as a living living legend in education in 2019. Now to my audience out there, that is a strong distinction, right? The Living Legend Award in Education 2019. You’ve also been recognized internationally and nationally, along with winning the top Medical and Wellness Professional award. Now, truly, this underscores your work regarding brain development in early learners. ABS Absolutely. I mean. LJ, unbelievable. But a previous guest right on VFE Black Excellence Series was the first episode. Dr. Pedro Noguera. He stated explicitly from his research that if a child’s basic needs are compromised, then student achievement and academic outcomes will be impacted. So based on your research and current innovative work, how can learning organizations school teachers, leaders and communities ensure early childhood education and the learners that are embedded in these models? Basic needs are prioritized and a challenging time when resources and we know about scarce resources, when they’re minimal in the education ecosystem.

Lj Henderson

Well, that’s that’s my job. So I thank you for talking about my awards. I’m now officially known as the Jim of STEM Girl Educating the multitudes. And the thing that I like to say in all of my training, to answer your question, is just keep it simple. Like I used simple household objects to teach complex STEM concepts. When I do my trainings, a lot of times it’s minds because unless teachers were STEM kids, they don’t feel comfortable teaching STEM concepts. So if a teacher had a bad math experience, they don’t feel like they are qualified or competent to teach math. If they didn’t have a good science experience in school, they don’t feel comfortable teaching science even to three, four and five year olds, right? So I try to get them strategies that will help them to keep it simple. And I like to say we all know our vowels, right? What are about a-e-i-o-u, I make stem easy for you, a-e-i-o-u, I make stem easy for you. So I do my best to keep it simple and to show educators simple things that they probably already have in their home or their classroom that they can use to address their scope and sequence objectives and actually implement STEM into their classroom, regardless of the budget of the school, regardless of what resources they have. We find a way to make them easy so they’d nail students, even though they may not have a robot. They have some flowers, some vinegar, they can do some things. They may not have a lot of the electrical things, but if we start with just small, simple things, then that’s going to spark their interest. Because think about it, most kids may not come from a background to where they have a lot of resources at home, but if they see things in their house that they’ve seen at school and they’ve done an experiment, now we get into ingenuity. Because when we think about one of the most famous engineers, Lonnie Johnson, since we’re talking about black excellence, he was an engineer, but he started out making toys as a seven year old kid. He’s the one that developed the Super Soaker cool now, later sold his company or almost $1,000,000,000. Right? But he started tinkering with things in his home as a child. And so we need to make certain that our students have access to those resources and know how to now critical thinking, problem solve and create. Getting back to creativity, to Mister Rogers neighborhood, getting back to that childhood creativity, that is what’s going to make all the difference in the world. We can go buy fancy stuff, but when we’re talking about the next innovators, the next creators, what can they build? What can they, what concepts can they dream of? What are you putting in their hands to give them that exposure, to give them that opportunity to explore? That is where the next engineers and innovators and other STEM related careers are going to come from by putting simple things in their hands for them to solve complex issues.

Dr. Michael Conner

LJ, well stated. Because what you described is a perfect definition, simplistic definition of innovation. I was at a conference of recent conference out of California in San Jose, and I had a chance to be at Adobe and hear a presentation by the education evangelist of Adobe. And he presented some startling, startling research about the top ten skills that are going to be needed for Generation Z and Generation Alpha that we have to develop. You know, what the number one skill or competency that we have to develop creativity right now. Seven was A.I. and data, which you’re addressing within your model. And in the top ten finish out was innovation. So that cultivation of creativity, A.I., data, innovation, these are all new advanced skills that are going to be needed if we really, truly want to prepare our students for this new economic demand. But I really loved how you elaborated about innovation on a simplistic version that we don’t have to have the new emerging technologies or, you know, the new resources to be able to innovate. It’s about that, create that tinker in that cluster, that constant tinkering with new resources or in IT or standard resources where now we can elevate that war innovation in our classrooms. And this segways nicely LJ into my next question because you do a lot of things around professional learning in conjunction with the little STEM Academy. What I want to do is focus on the pedagogical shift, right? The paradigm that is needed in education, the pedagogy that is the antithesis of the industrial model or the legacy model where we see continuous rote based instruction. But you talked about it. We need to move to this paradigm of pedagogy where it focuses on critical thinking and problem solving skills. But we know, LJ, you and I know you do it across country within your professional learning exercises. It’s hard to shift the mind set right? You talked about it in your last answer. Keeping a simple mindset is hard to shift the mindset when the dominant pedagogy has been based. Right? But with this shift, LJ, we really want to focus on how do we make that shift to a coauthoring co-design model where inquiry, discovery, critical thinking and collaboration problem solving becomes the norm, realized methodology of instruction in all of our classrooms. Not an outlier like the World STEM Academy, but make sure that is or lamented within the education ecosystem.

Lj Henderson

I would say the one thing that stands out to me, which I think that districts nationwide can do a better job of, is really focusing on experiential learning and making certain that students have opportunities for hands on exploration and there is a way to actually do that across curricular without it just being the job of the science teacher. If they have a science teacher because you know there is a shortage and there I don’t know. When is the last time you heard someone saying that they’re going to school to major to be a science teacher? A lot of people are not majoring in science specifically, and then those that are in science are retiring. So then we have substitutes that are just keeping the kids safe, but they’re not really learning. And so the kids are not really getting any experiential learning. And so to me, what I’ve done and what I do is I we’re posting like crazy on social media not just to say, Hey, look at us, we’re a little STEM academy, but to show kids, look at what our kids can do. Your kids can do it, too. Because even when I’m doing professional development training and I’m like, our kids are, you know, doing heart dissections, Our kids are building bridges, our kids are doing this. They’re the teachers. Like, my kids can do that. I can do that. But then when I show a video of a bee pollination experiment using simple materials that they have in their classroom, and then they hear the voices of the kids talking about the cross-pollination, and they’re hearing words like nectar and pollen and the like. Those kids know those words. I didn’t think they could know those words because they haven’t been exposed. And so what I show them the proof is in the pudding. A picture is worth a thousand words, but a video is worth a trillion words. So we’re always videoing our kids and showing and demonstrating what our kids are doing in the classroom, hopefully to inspire other educators, other innovators, other parents to get their kids involved like that. You can do it, Mike. You can do it, too, because I’m a pretty competitive mom, so it’s an educator. So if I see another school doing something, I’m like, okay, where they get that from? So hopefully I hope that we inspire people by the videos that we post so that they could see this work can be done and it can be done with kids that look like us and it can be done at younger ages if we just give them the opportunity.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely, LJ. Well stated, right. And that paradigm shift, more of our students need experiential learning. More of our students need that constructivist approach. More of our students need where they are hope offers of their learning. So they’re they’re authentically engage as opposed to this level of strategic and ritual compliance and alignment to the research. But what you stated is critically important and what you’re defying is these low expectations of students, right? Your work and the model of the World STEM Academy really highlights the various elements within my conceptual model, my research of the disruptive excellence framework, where you’re intentionally closing these insidious gaps, low expectation gaps, performance gaps that my students can’t do this access and opportunity to experiential learning so that it moves away from the traditional instruction of rote memorization where students are only using 15% in their natural lives versus the instruction that is underscored at the World STEM Academy, which is a part of their everyday life. Well stated research grounded the way you use data, but this is the last question, LJ Henderson. You made it through VFE man. I tell you people think that this is like a hot seat weight type of, you know, I guess I’m like, no, I don’t ask rigorous questions because I know that my, my viewers and my audience would be able to get many strategies to bring back into their professional repertoire. But this question, LJ, everybody, everybody takes it in their own way. They can, you know, three words times, you know, 20 is three words with two more words. So because you are the disruptive innovator that you are, take it how it is. So I’m going to try to limit you to three words, but I know that this is not going to work. But what three words do you want our audience to leave with regarding equity, excellence and innovation for the early childhood sector in the A-C stage of Education?

Lj Henderson

Unique experiences creating opportunities for children to learn, I think they kind of go into opportunities. What opportunities are there for children in your community to do more or to get more engage with? All of these jobs are being created, which means that all of these businesses and corporations are moving into our communities. What kind of partnerships are can what opportunities are you creating for the future generations? So opportunity, unique experiences. And I would say innovation and just being prepared for what’s next and keeping keeping abreast of what’s to come and being a part of that process. So I would say innovation opportunities and unique experiences.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And I want to add on to that. You stated you said being engaged, there’s that level of advocacy you were talking about and and partnerships in or in or in partnerships, opportunity, unique experiences. And exactly what your model exemplifies is innovation. Now, LJ, one thing I want you to highlight this, right? You just had or about to have a big announcement. I want you to make the big announcement on the E with your new partner, Skip Right. wow. You had to put that in with partnerships. So I want you to highlight your partnership. It is unbelievable. Congratulations on this. Please announce it on VFE.

Lj Henderson

Okay, so I am pleased to announce that I am now an official partner with T-Mobile for Education. And what does that mean? So just to give you a little background knowledge, most of the time we think about T-Mobile, we think about retail, we think about phones, right? But T-Mobile for Education is a division of over 40 educators nationwide committing to making certain that our schools and communities have what they need to educate our students. So that means that there is a community that does not have connectivity like the small town that I grew up in in Louisiana, like houses are miles apart. So it’s a rural community. How do we get them connected? How do we get them engaged so that their students can still have what they need? They also provide hardware. So be that iPads or Samsung tablets or whomever the tablets are. But the beauty of it is now when they’re distributing those tablets that are connected to those communities, they are bringing in partners like myself that now when a student gets a device, it’s embedded with STEM. So now we’re decreasing the accessibility and equity gap because a student not only gets in the device, but they get a device upload it with still. So they have STEM at home, they have STEM in school. So it’s all the experiences, all the lesson plans. So that learning continues beyond the school day and they’re bringing other partners as well. I’m just one of the youngest parties that they brought in on the stem side for education. So I’m super duper proud of that. And then I’m just like partners like T-Mobile. It’s like they’re putting their money where their mouth is. We’re looking for other partners, too, because we hope to expand by 2025 to have a charter that is similar to the model that we have here so that we can service more great levels. So we’ll continue to look for partners like T-Mobile and anyone else that wants to take us on this journey and help us to teach kids to learn love and leading STEM.

Dr. Michael Conner

There we go. And I tell you, congratulations. I’m super, super proud of you, LJ. Also a shout out to Dr. Iris Gardner for establishing this partnership. We want to talk about black excellence as black excellence down there in Georgia with T-Mobile just super excited for you. Now you’re about to disrupt your model, expand it to a school wide model. Wow. Now, LJ, I can tell you right now people are going to get in contact. If they want to get in contact with you, how would they be able to reach you on social media, email, just to learn about your design thinking and research behind your model? And then also, how are you changing mindsets with regards to professional learning and teachers as well? How would they be able to get in touch with you?

Lj Henderson

Yeah. So on all social media platforms, our business page is Little STEM Academy, with the exception of Twitter, on Twitter, @PearlAndSTEM. So pear like the fruit @PearlandSTEM and on all other social media platforms, it’s just Little STEM Academy. You can look at our work, you can see what our kids are doing even this morning because I’m sure we’ve already uploaded that. So it’s like real time. So whatever our kids are doing, you’re going to see it and hear about it that particular day. Another way, if you’re interested in professional learning for your staff, you can reach out to me at LittleSTEMLab.com to send me a contact form and I’ll reach out to you to see exactly what your needs are. If you currently have a STEM program, maybe you just want a STEM audit to see what’s working, what’s not working. And then if you need someone to come in that’s energetic and innovative, to actually training your staff, I can do that as well. And then I support with my license package of STEM experiments and lesson plans that make STEM easy for your teachers. Remember A-E-I-O-U, I make STEM easy for you. And all of my licensed materials are easily integrated with any curriculum and address your state standards as well.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. LJ, I am super, super proud of you. You are thriving, continue deepening and strengthening that work so your work goes beyond Pearland and the Houston area to truly we have a systemic change in the early childhood sector. LJ Henderson, the owner, the founder of the Little STEM Academy in Pearland, Texas. You made it through VFE. Thank you, LJ.

Lj Henderson

Thank you for the opportunity. Have a stem-tastic day.

Dr. Michael Conner

Thank you, LJ. And on that note, onward and upward, everybody. Have a great evening.