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Cook County Board honors PUSH Excel STEAM Program

By Chinta Strausberg

The Cook County Board last week honored the Rainbow PUSH EXCEL program that teaches youth skill sets, how to work in teams, and how to build robots and coding that are keys to successful corporate careers.

After the resolution was read into the record, Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore (4th District), thanked Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. and Rev. Dr. Janette Wilson, National Executive Director of the PUSH Excel Tech program, for their “outstanding service to racial, economic and social justice in helping communities of color throughout Cook County, the state of Illinois and the rest of the world.”

Referring to his speaking engagement last December at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters along with his colleague, Commissioner Dennis Dear (2nd District), Moore said when he toured the PUSH Tech Center he was shocked.

“It was amazing,” Moore said. “I have never seen anything like this. These young men were creating robotics. It’s a classroom-type environment where they are taught math and sciences.” That is why Moore wanted to recognize the program is not often PUSH STEAM program he said “is often not exposed to Black children. STEAM has the power to teach youth math, science and other skills they can use as they go throughout their college careers. You can take these skills to become engineers, scientists and tech leaders.”

Moore commended the PUSH Excel program “for its vision of bringing STEAM into our community, and I hope that more neighborhoods would have STEAM programs like this one.” He said that he is looking forward to working with this program.

Finance Chairman John Daley also praised Rev. Jackson and the PUSH Excel program. Commissioner Bill Lowry (3rd District) said as a boy he had two pennants on his bedroom wall—a Chicago Cubs pennant and an ‘I Am Somebody’ pennant.

“Rainbow PUSH has continued to be a big part of my life—whether it’s the Saturday morning broadcast or whether it is visiting the jail on Christmas morning or joining with the Census count,” Lowry said.

Dr. Martin Pieters, PUSH Excel STEAM Director and technical consultant to the program—who along with retired engineer Bruce Petersen, who teaches robotics and coding at the PUSH Excel program—introduced the STEAM students he brought with him to the meeting.

They were Adam Simpkins, 13, a freshman at the Ogden International High School. His parents, Anthony Simpkins, Deputy Commissioner for housing in the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, and his wife, Tammy McCann Simpkins, were present. Another student who was present was Akash Pondicherry, 15, a sophomore from Kenwood Academy. In an earlier interview, Pieters said, “We try to demystify technology,” which is not as accessible in public schools as it should be.

AFTER ATTENDING A lengthy Cook County Board meeting where the commissioners honored the Rainbow PUSH Excel tech program, the parents of two of the students posed for pictures outside of the board chambers. They are:  Anthony Simpkins, the father of Adam Simpkins, 13, Commissioner Stanley Moore (4th District), Akash Pondicherry, 15, Adam Simpkins, Dr. Martin Pieters, director of the PUSH Excel STEAM program and technical consultant to the program, Bruce Petersen, a retired engineer and teacher for the program, and Tammy McCann Simpkins, mother of Adam Simpkins. (Photo by Chinta Strausberg)

Pieters said that, in looking at the statistics for those taking computer science tests in 2013, only 24 African-Americans took the test in the entire state but 18 failed. “One African-American female passed the computer science test in the entire state. On the Latino side, he said 36 students took the test with 24 failing.

Referring to Google, Dr. Pieters said 90 percent of their employees have computer science [classes] before they enter high school. “You can’t pick college and learn how to code. We feel we are doing the right thing at the right time. It’s the new civil rights legacy. We have to get our kids involved in STEAM. We have to get them involved in technology. Those are the jobs of the future.”

“We know that technology is the new wave of the future,” Dr. Pieters added, which is why the PUSH EXCEL program offers these free courses from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. each Saturday at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters, 930 E. 50th St., to students ages 7-18.

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