• Kenneth Mims

Science Prep Academy Forging Opportunity for Autistic Students with Amazon Future Engineer Program

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

Phoenix’s own Science Prep Academy (SPA) continues to grow as a leader in private education for children with autism. Adding the Amazon Future Engineer program to the curriculum is one of many ways that the academy opens new doors of possibility to their students. SPA’s innovative and holistic curriculum has been thoughtfully constructed, encompassing a multimedia approach delivered using​ ​constructivism​ methods in small groups maintaining a 4:1 ratio. Small class sizes allow the academy to provide unique STEM experiences and programs. As with any new tools brought into SPA’s classrooms, programs must be able to provide students with qualities in support of its mission.

“Science Prep Academy's mission is to build an Autistic workforce by providing opportunities for academic, physical, social, and emotional growth through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) based teaching and learning. Students learn coding and robotics.” – SPA Mission Statement

As of this February, the​ ​Amazon Future Engineer​ program is aiding in the academy’s mission by offering a progressive curriculum for grades K-8 and high school students in the fields of computer science (CS) and coding. All 12 of SPA’s students (currently ranging from grades 6-10) will begin with the K-8 introductory course, ensuring a solid foundation of the material is fundamentally understood by all of the students. Through Amazon’s partnership with​ ​Code.org​, Coding with Kids​, and​ ​Edhesive​, a variety of instructional methods are available throughout the program. Upon completion of their first year, students ready for more challenging course work, may continue on to the AP course and/or high school curriculum.

“The things that are most exciting about participating is definitely the scholarship and job opportunity. Being able to use my skills to get a scholarship to my dream college would be a bucket list. Knowing that I could possibly get a job is also something that would make me very excited.” - SPA Student

Learning to utilize and maximize technology through hands-on applications isn’t just an educational benefit. Amazon Future Engineer offers opportunity for participants to receive program scholarships, which all SPA students are currently receiving. Upon graduation, they are also eligible for college scholarships, paid post-college internships, and unlimited networking possibilities. When SPA alumni enter the workforce, they will have resume credits that most emerging neurotypical students won’t, providing a unique upper hand while employers in the community learn how to cohesively work with the continuously growing numbers of the autistic population.

How significant is the demand for specialized autistic education and STEM programs? The CDC and Autism Society identically report that​ ​1 in 59​ children are diagnosed as having an autism spectrum disorder, making Autism the ‘​fastest-growing developmental disability​.’ Interpreting these numbers suggest that today’s children with autism will represent a significant percentage of minority groups being encouraged to fulfill tomorrows demands in technological industries. According to the​ ​Bureau of Labor Statistics​, computer and information technology jobs are growing “​faster than the average for all occupations,​” as are other fields which complement the top 5 careers​ for people with autism listed by the Applied Behavior Analysis Programs Guide. In addition to computer programing and software careers, the guide also lists scientists, lab technicians, and researcher.

Educating autistic children with an interactive curriculum in STEM applications became​ ​a focus for Kenneth Mims​ during his career. Being trained in the Future Engineer curriculum by Amazon assists him and his team in further fulfilling the commitment they have made to ensuring a valuable education that provides its students’ the knowledge and communication skills needed to be competitive in a world where their natural gift for math and the sciences reigns a dominate field of education and employment.

“As an educator, one of the biggest challenges for teaching computer science is overcoming the learning curve between concept and application. While students may find it easy to understand basic ideas such as Boolean logic, sequences, and functions, they can be overwhelmed when transferring those skills to writing code. For many students, learning to program in Java or Python can be as difficult as learning a second language. I’m personally looking forward to using Amazon Future Engineer curriculum this year. Their Intro to Computer Science course simultaneously builds computer literacy and coding proficiency with short, easy to teach lessons. With their curriculum and their partners at Code.org, I believe we now have the tools to teach anyone to code.” – SPA Teacher

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