Decatur, Ga.,
13:11 PM

Communication Through Technology

“International language of technology” helps employees teach refugees.

Starting life in a new country can be daunting. There are new and different cultures and customs, not to mention a language barrier, in most cases. At the International Student Center in Decatur, Ga., the refugee students speak more than 60 different languages.

The students attend the International Student Center to learn to read, write and speak English before attending their regular schools. While there, students work to advance in all subjects, and the Center wanted a fun way to teach them about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

A teacher submitted a project to request funding through the website Donors Choose, where anyone can choose a teacher’s project to donate to or fully fund. The project asked for donations to buy Sphero SPRK robots. The robot takes commands from an app loaded on smartphones or tablets. Programs can be created by drawing or using code, depending on the student’s ability.

State Farm® funded the purchase of the robots through Donors Choose. Five State Farm employees volunteered to teach the students how to use the Sphero by programming the robot to follow a specific pattern on the floor.

Because of the lack of common language, the volunteers communicated in different ways with the students. “We did a lot of pointing and smiling and looking at the sheet,” says Terrell Johnson, State Farm employee.

Thomas Moore, State Farm employee, planned the volunteering event for his team. “Once the students were holding the tablet, you could see they all understood how it worked – the international language of technology,” he says. “We are technologists. We work in the digital space designing apps and websites, so it provided a way to bond with them.”

“It allowed the kids to do the programming, regardless of their level of ability,” Jennifer Kendrick, State Farm employee, says. “We had a grid to follow. We had to be mindful of where you started, how the robot was positioned and that everything was synced to the app.”

As the robots zoomed down the hallways, the students’ faces would light up.

“I hope they took away the idea there are things in the world that are interesting and they can be passionate about it. Their circumstances are all so different. I was happy there was an environment to help them acclimate,” says Steve Eighmey, State Farm employee.

The volunteers came away with a positive experience as well.

“The gratitude they expressed was amazing,” says Terrell. “It made me realize I need to be more grateful. It humanized everything you see on TV. They’re just kids like my kids. They want to have fun, be with their friends, get out of school.”

Jennifer would volunteer at the school again. “To see them light up when they achieved something was incredible,” she says. “A lot of the kids who come have a minimal amount of education. The fact they came in and got that encouragement and success with something that requires current technology and math skills is a big win.”

“The school was trying a different way to get the students into STEM,” adds Jovonni Pharr, State Farm employee. “It’s always a unique experience to watch children learn. It was interesting to see the diversity, as well. There were students from Tanzania, Iraq, Singapore and many other countries.”

State Farm identifies schools through Donors Choose and matches funding criteria for projects in Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix. In 2017, State Farm matched funding for more than 460 projects, helping nearly 43,000 students.

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