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Dynamic Duo: Homeschool + Innovation + Industry-Aligned Education = Early Career Exposure

Dynamic Duo: Homeschool + Innovation + Industry-Aligned Education = Early Career Exposure

When Jonnel Latham got the idea to integrate robotics into her homeschooling curriculum, she wasn’t thinking about career alignment. She was simply looking for a new way to infuse her homeschool curriculum with technology while having fun.

The Latham family began their homeschool journey four years ago in China. Jonnel and her husband Kamal, a former U.S. Diplomat, owned Diplomatic Treatment®, a business consulting company in Beijing, China, when they made the decision to homeschool their children. Their children, Micah and Nasyra, attended an international school until that point.

“We talked about homeschooling before we got married in 2001.  Being overseas, we wanted to have a more hands-on approach with their education while strengthening our core family values,” said Jonnel. “Kamal and I both came through the public school system and found significant value in public education.  Homeschooling is not for every child, but diversity is key and it’s awesome to be able to choose the path.”

The family moved to Gainesville in 2013.

What began as a sacrifice has evolved into a driving passion and a creative approach to education for the Latham family.  The children receive most of their instruction from Jonnel, who has complemented their homeschool program with classes at a Classical Conversations community once a week and a Community Christian Homeschoolers Life Science Sub-group twice a month.  They have also participated in basketball and soccer through Upward Sports.

Before leaving China, Jonnel had not been exposed to the current emphasis in the U.S. on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.  “The more I learned about STEM, the more I wanted homeschooled students to be exposed to it in a hands-on environment,” said Latham, “In pursuing the idea of a Lego Robotics course, I essentially knew the overall goal, but I did not know which road to take to get there.”

In February, while attending a meeting with her husband, Kamal, who is the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Vice President of Public Policy, Jonnel overheard an intriguing conversation about LEGO Robotics.  She was introduced to Dug Jones, Santa Fe College’s Associate Vice President for Economic Development and they talked about an opportunity for homeschooling families to take part in a Lego Robotics program.

“The Community Education Program began exposing elementary-school age students to robotics in recent years to augment the collective community effort to strengthen the region’s talent pipeline,” said Jones, “This year, however, marks the first time we have seen a homeschool-specific interest in robotics. This tells us our regional inclination toward innovation, which has for some time been embraced by the region’s homeschool community, is now being leveraged by them in new ways.”

The flexibility and autonomy homeschooling parents in the Gainesville region enjoy in directing their children’s education is reflective of another asset for which this area is well-known: turning tech-driven ideas into marketable technology, except in this instance, the market lives in homeschool classrooms across the region.

Dug Jones introduced Jonnel to Jennifer Mullis, who runs the Community Education programs at Santa Fe CIED Center, which, through a suite of business-driven programs, supports entrepreneurship and meets industry-specific talent needs.  By April, an instructor had been identified, classes were ramped up and Gainesville-area homeschooled children were learning robotics basics using robots on the Lego Mindstorms EV-3 platform, designed for use in education.

“We are tremendously grateful to the Santa Fe CIED Center, for responding so quickly to a desire in our community.  Jennifer Mullis is a dynamic person.  She grabbed the vision, formed a group discussion between her, myself and Gwen Thompson – the Lego Robotics Instructor, to map out the LEGO Robotics STEM course for homeschoolers from 2015 thru 2016,” said Latham.

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So much interest in the class remains that four courses, each articulating to one of the four STEM facets, are slated to run between this fall and next spring. In science, kids will learn the basics of operating the EV-3, then progress to technology, where they will explore the technology behind the robots and learn more about building them. In engineering, the kids will experience the design process by learning to create a giant structure, device or machine. The series of courses will culminate with mathematics, where kids will design and 3D print correctly sized, functioning attachments for the robots.

“This instance exemplifies the CIED Center’s Community Education program responding to a community need for industry-aligned education exactly as it was designed to, but with an innovative twist,” said Mullis.

Impressive? Absolutely. But even as the CIED Center prepares to ramp up for the fall classes, Latham is looking forward to future interactions with other entities.

“Our family loves living in the Gainesville region.  There is a wealth of opportunity for children here.  Santa Fe College has an awesome College for Kids program in the summer and Space Challenge during spring break, while the Cade Museum has unique science experiments throughout the year, and the list goes on,” said Latham, “We look forward to enjoying the continued community effort towards progress for the enhancement of all of our children’s lives.”

If you would like to learn more about some of the opportunities for homeschoolers in Gainesville, contact GainesvilleRobotics@gmail.com

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