ASCB COMPASS Outreach Spotlight: Caribbean Youth Development Institute

The Caribbean is known for being a region with bright, exuberant people. There was no exception to this notion when Jamaican students from Free Town Primary School decided to take part in the “#ProjectSTEM: Becoming an Investigator!” program. The excitement was palpable as students entered the Zoom meeting, which would soon become their new forensics and cellular biology lab. The challenge given was to investigate a crime scene to solve the question, “Who did it?” This month-long program had the 9- to12-year old students become mini-scientists by analyzing hair samples, fingerprints, and conducting blood typing, all while having a blast!

This program was hosted by the Caribbean Youth Development Institute (CYD Institute) with the support of the ASCB COMPASS Outreach Grant program. This grant program played an essential role in the development of CYD Institute’s offerings by allowing us to develop a web-based educational platform tailored to the needs of students across the Caribbean and its diaspora. “#ProjectSTEM: Becoming an Investigator!” was born out of the need for more project-based approaches to learning in the region. This is a method that is currently utilized in STEM education and has proved to be wonderful for learning experiences as it allows students to acquire deeper knowledge of topics through active exploration of real-world problems. However, the lack of resources in the Caribbean poses a challenge to this kind of development. With the COMPASS Outreach Grant, CYD Institute was able to facilitate the provision of kits to the students that had all the fun tools they needed to conduct their experiments. The grant also allowed the team to provide cellular data support for students who didn’t have broadband access, something that was very important to us at CYD Institute.

With the COVID-19 pandemic came an increase in the demand for platforms that facilitated remote learning and allowed instructors to engage with their students. Not only did “#ProjectSTEM Becoming an Investigator!” engage students in a meaningful way, but its framework provided a basis for subsequent projects, “The Hidden World of Everyday Objects” and “Earth Day 2021: Discover Your Backyard.” With these projects, CYD Institute was able to spark curiosity and help students envision themselves as scientists, a role they do not usually see filled by the members of their communities. We believe that experiences like these pave the way for our students to contribute to the STEM field and beyond in their futures.

CYD Institute’s mission is to provide Caribbean youth with knowledge and resources that will help them become tomorrow’s leaders and contributors to their communities. The need for more spaces like this in the Caribbean, where young people can maximize their potential, is the driving force behind CYD Institute’s initiatives. The impact made so far has not gone unnoticed. This is what some of the students had to say about the program:

“I learned not to shy away from challenges and not to doubt myself. Face to face would help me to understand better how to build the Foldscope.” – Zalika, 2020

“I loved learning all the new things. Especially all about the parts of the blood. Making the Foldscope was hard because I wasn’t organized. It was fun, educational, amazing!” – Emirate, 2020

“I would like to say that I love the science course. I love how we were trying to find all the crime scene stuff, and I really appreciate the work that you guys have done.” – Mickael, 2021

The “#ProjectSTEM Becoming an Investigator!” program was most definitely a success. A flood of brilliant questions from the mini-scientists had facilitators Brittania Moodie, Sashoy Milton, and Naomi Reitzin on their toes, and there is no doubt that the students gained a wealth of information in a fun and dynamic way. We at CYD Institute will continue to serve our communities through youth development because this is the very core of who we are.

About the Author:

Caribbean Youth Development Institute - CYD Institute is a grassroots initiative that aims to provide educational opportunities and healthy learning environments for youth across the Caribbean and diaspora. Our core team (Brittania Moodie, Sashoy Milton, Naomi Reitzin) along with volunteers facilitate free workshops, tutoring, mentorship, and academic/career development for students who lack accessible and/or affordable educational materials and resources. It is our hope that through this community, youth will be positive forces in their communities and countries.