Center X: UCLA Partnership with Bethany Baptist Church Supports Summer Learning

Six-week LAUNCH Academy provides STEM learning for elementary and middle students, instructional tools for teachers.

While on a field trip to UCLA, young students in the summer LAUNCH Academy took a tour of the campus, including several iconic sites. Using mathematical techniques and concepts, the children figured out how many steps there are in the Janss Steps and studied patterns and geometric shapes in the architecture of Royce Hall.

Janene Ward of the UCLA Mathematics Project, coordinated the first three weeks of the six-week academy. She describes the hands-on STEM learning opportunity for K- 8th graders.

Students in the UC’s LAUNCH Academy learn STEM principles at UCLA’s iconic inverted fountain on a field trip to the Westwood campus. Courtesy of Janene Ward

“I struggled with math,” she recalls. “It did not make sense to me. I did well in math because I memorized, but that fell apart in 9th grade. It wasn’t until a math class in college when a professor told the class that math is all about patterns and relationships. I thought, ‘Why didn’t someone say this at the beginning?’”

Overseen by UCLA’s Center X and Bethany Baptist Church of Los Angeles, the LAUNCH Academy provides innovative math and science learning opportunities based on university research. The teachers selected to teach in this program are from schools throughout Los Angeles and are all connected to the UCLA Mathematics Project and the UCLA Science Project, two of Center X’s subject matter initiatives.

“We are excited to be able to select teachers with the experience, expertise and passion for the STEM fields to teach and inspire LAUNCH students,” says Lynn Kim- John, who directs the UCLA Science Project. “These teacher-leaders continue to refine their craft and approach to student engagement and deep learning of STEM concepts by engaging in and facilitating research-based professional development across the Los Angeles region.”

Ward says that the LAUNCH Academy provides, “opportunities to support and build off the strengths the kids bring from the community. I have seen some incredible thinking around number sense – putting numbers together and breaking them apart – and deep place value understanding, in 1st and 2nd grade in particular.”

Now in its second year, the LAUNCH Academy takes place at Bethany Baptist Church. It is part of the Achieve UC initiative, which was formed to increase the number of students from historically underserved communities at the University of California. Bethany Baptist Church is one of six faith-based organizations that were selected to participate in the program. The LAUNCH Academy is supported by the Baldwin Bethany Community Development Corporation and the Office of Diversity and Engagement at the UC Office of the President (UCOP).

The LAUNCH Academy provides STEM learning for students from kindergarten through middle school. Courtesy of Janene Ward

“President Napolitano’s Achieve UC initiative aims to inspire California students to pursue higher education,” says Claudia Martinez, executive director for Educator Programs and the UCOP’s California Subject Matter Project. “The LAUNCH Academy is an excellent example of how important our collaborations with community- and faith-based organizations are to achieving this goal.”

Tailored for children ages 4-14 within the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw area and its surrounding communities who will enter kindergarten through 8th grade in fall of the 2017-18 school year, the LAUNCH Academy includes a healthy breakfast and lunch each day. Its mission is to provide a summer program that empowers each participant through activities that are rooted in Leadership, Academic Excellence, Unleashing Potential, Nutritional Health, College-Bound goals, and High Self-Esteem. The UCLA Mathematics Project and the UCLA Science Project supply the research-based curriculum.

“With the smashing success of the program and the accolades from students’ parents, we are moving into year two with a number of improvements—smaller grade-level group sizes, teacher’s assistant and volunteer in each room, a field trip to UCLA and other informal activities,” says Kim- John. “While students are having fun engaging in the doing of science, our teachers will engage students in class discussion, science notebooking, data analysis and rigorous thinking, all of which we know are important to the learning of science. We hope to provide each student with an intimate and deep dive into STEM areas in order to inspire creative and critical thinking that will extend into the academic year.”

Ward says that there has been overwhelming parental response and support for the LAUNCH Academy, with parents and family members participating in orientation and the field trip to UCLA. During a mid-program event on July 7, they also have the opportunity to share their children’s day-to-day LAUNCH Academy experience.

“Professional development [for teachers] is great, but being with the kids and the community – that’s what it’s all about,” she says. “We have the best teachers ever – the kids tell us, and they tell their parents. It’s an opportunity to partner with community members and engage them in hands-on and minds-on STEM learning opportunities.”

Annamarie Francois, executive director of Center X, notes that the LAUNCH Academy also provides a much-needed bolstering of learning to alleviate the “summer slide” due to school vacations.

“Summer slide disproportionately affects students from low income families primarily because they do not have access to the range of summer enrichment activities available in well-resourced communities,” says Francois.  “By the 5th grade, the cumulative effect can be the loss of nearly 18 months of learning.

“Center X’s engagement with the Bethany Launch Academy is a great example of how university-community partnerships can effectively address pervasive opportunity and achievement gaps by creating powerful spaces of learning where children from low-income families joyously explore, create, practice essential skills, and solidify a love for learning.”

Click here for an article on the UCLA Launch Academy in the Los Angeles Sentinel.


Above: Young students in the LAUNCH Academy, a summer workshop created in partnership between UCLA’s Center X and Bethany Baptist Church of Los Angeles, explore the principles of flight.

Courtesy of Janene Ward