Center of Innovation brings 3-D printers, coding computers to after-school programs

First-of-its-kind STEM facility in San Antonio geared towards military children

CONVERSE, Texas – A new Center of Innovation has officially opened at Judson Middle School's Boys & Girls Club, igniting a new spark for learning. It's part of a multimillion-dollar grant to bring kids closer to cutting-edge science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

Ever made a drum set out of bananas? Sixth-grade Judson Middle School student Hailey Ivey can now say she has.

As an instructor walked her through the steps of creating a circuit through her body, she was able to drum on bananas hooked up to wires, connected to a computer, and drum away to her own rhythm. 

"Wow! That's cool," she said as she watched the screen. 

Hailey has always loved science. That's why she got to be the first Boys & Girls Club member to see the brand new Center of Innovation at Judson Middle School. A $5 million grant is allowing tech company Raytheon and the Boys & Girls Club of America to build 22 Centers of Innovation across the country, specifically near military bases. 

"A typical military family has to move six to nine times during a military career and that's challenging for the whole family, but that's also challenging for the children. For those kids that are excited about technology, it's our hope they'll have a safe space to come and learn about technology," said Raytheon Director Mike Williams.

The goal of the centers is to allow kids to build a hands-on love for science, technology, engineering and math. 

"There are many children who have the aptitude for math or science or engineering, but a lot of times when they're not given the opportunity they don't get that spark and they don't pursue a career in the sciences or in engineering," Williams said. 

After Hailey cut the ribbon for the new center at Judson, kids flocked to technology like these Raspberry Pie computers that teach programming.

The most popular piece of equipment in the room, however, was the 3-D printer, making planters and toys right in front of the children's eyes. 

"When I actually saw it I said, 'Oh my gosh that's so cool!' I went over there for a couple minutes and I was looking at it. I was so fascinated. I know a lot of kids think that stuff is boring but it actually sounds like a lot of fun to me," she said. 

The hope is that Centers of Innovation will have more kids agreeing with Hailey.

"I think kids will be interested just seeing the stuff. They don't even have to know what they're doing. They're just going to be interested," Hailey said.  

She was right. If the first 10 minutes of amazed faces and genuine interest at Judson's center were an indicator, there may be far more future scientists and engineers in the making. 

The center will be used mainly for the Boys & Girls Club after-school program, which is located at Judson Middle School. However, staff members are working with the school and could soon allow teachers to use the center during class time. There are about 100 kids in that branch of the Boys & Girls Club. 

To find out where other Centers of Innovation have been built, click here.

About the Author:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.