The school day has officially ended on this early November day, but 66 kids ages 9 to 11 are still in a Gaithersburg classroom busy making musical instruments and offering suggestions to each other in Spanish as the early November sun sets outside.
They are participating in Jovenes de Manaña (Young People of Tomorrow), a bilingual program created in 2017 by Identity, which has partnered with the Kid Museum in Bethesda, to encourage students’ interest in STEM through free, hands-on lessons.
“The fastest-growing job fields are in STEM, and in 15 to 20 years, you’ll be the future leaders, entrepreneurs and inventors of our community,” Nora Morales tells her students often.
Morales is the program director of Jovenes de Manaña at Identity, a MoCo-based organization with a mission to create opportunities for Latinos, one of which is Jovenes de Manaña. Approximately 125 elementary Spanish-speaking children in the county participate in Jovenes de Manaña.
“A lot of the time, we have newly immigrated children, and we think they’re behind because they don’t know how to speak English fluently,” Morales said, adding that it’s quite the opposite. “They come from their home countries with a whole different perspective and developing STEM skills allows them to shine,” she said.
In addition to hands-on lessons, Morales and Flor Alfaro, another Identity program manager, introduce students to Latino role models who have excelled in STEM fields.
“It’s fascinating how science is evolving and with this, the strength of Latinos in science. It’s amazing that us Latinos are getting represented in the STEM fields and that’s why we need to look for role models,” said Alfaro.
Jovenes de Manaña operates in Gaithersburg and Germantown, Harriet R. Tubman, Summit Hall, Watkins Mill, and Whetstone Elementary Schools.
Some elementary school programs are before and after school, four days a week, while others are two days a week, either in the morning or afternoon.
“We partner with the schools to decide how intensive the program is, how many days, and what the needs of the students are,” Morales said.
Of the 146.4 million people ages 18 to 74 workforce, 34.9 million were employed in STEM occupations in 2021 in the STEM workforce of the United States, according to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). Among racial or ethnic groups, Asian workers had the highest share employed in STEM with 39%, whereas one the lowest share was among Hispanic workers with 20%, according to their data.
According to data from the Pew Research Center, Hispanic workers make up 17% of total employment across all occupations but just 8% of all STEM workers.
STEM workers had median wage and salary earnings of about $64,000, higher than the $40,000 earned by those working in non-STEM occupations, according to data by the NCSES. As STEM jobs continue to rank higher on the pay scale, with the typical worker earning more than those in non-STEM positions, Latinos must join the industry.
“When these young people want to be contributors to Montgomery County and the rest of the country, we must let them develop and have knowledge of STEM because, more likely than not, their future careers will depend on it,” said Morales.
If you want to read this article in Spanish, click here.