By: Tara Chklovski & Maggie Jaris
I recently attended a Family Science session at the Think Now School, where we’re running a Curiosity Machine program in partnership with Genentech. The day I was there, families were working on building a No Wire Circuit, and I sat down with a family to learn more about their design but also to hear what drew them to Family Science, and what they were hoping to get out of the program.
I wound up meeting Maria Diaz, a parent of two kids currently living in Oakland, and hearing about her amazing dedication and commitment to her kids.
Maria was born and raised in Mexico, but she came to the United States 16 years ago. Currently she holds down two jobs, working at Jack in the Box and cleaning houses, although in Mexico she was a paramedic with the Red Cross. Maria is curious, and loves to learn about anything and everything. She’s been learning English for 3 years — her manager even gave her audiobooks to help, but the family car was stolen with the tapes inside, so she’s had to find other ways to learn.
Maria brings her son Alex — who is 8 year old — to Family Science on her day off work, hoping to interest them in science and history. She herself was hoping to learn more about the evolution of machines, but she’s also developed her confidence in helping her children with hands-on projects and learning STEM. The first session of Family Science made her a little nervous — how would she work alongside Alex while also helping him learn? — but by the second session they were much more comfortable, and the robotic arm design challenge was fun to build. Building alongside Alex makes Maria feel like a kid again, but it’s not the only time Maria devotes to family time.
Every Saturday is reserved for family time, and the entire family will head to a park, museum or movie, or play soccer and basketball with friends, or they’ll take a day trip to a lake.
I was also struck by the way Maria builds community. She had brought fruit as a snack for all the families at the Family Science session I attended, but she also told me all about how she volunteers to run childcare at the church on Sundays and Tuesdays, and how she recently made fruit tarts and pastries for a church event with 250 people! And the church gives right back — Maria’s husband recently had open heart surgery and was in the hospital for nearly two months. The church helped their family pay rent and offered community and connection during a rough time.
The thread through everything Maria and I talked about was her love for her family, and especially her children. Towards the end of our conversation, she told me that her main goal was to help her children, but that was already apparent in everything she had told me before that. On Sundays, the family goes to church in the morning, and then out to lunch before Maria heads to work at Jack in the Box from 2pm to 10pm. When she gets home, Maria checks the kids’ uniforms, their homeworks and their backpacks. She works so hard because she wants her kids to feel supported by her, and her attendance and enthusiasm at Family Science make it difficult to imagine them feeling anything else.
We spent a lot of time talking about Maria’s hopes and fears for her children — she wants them to go to college and have successful careers and she wants to know that all her hard work was worth it. Maria hopes that her children find purpose in serving others, but also seek out independence and leadership and are able to experience being employers instead of only employees. Maria also hopes her children are able to develop their creativity, since that is a skill she’s confident they’ll need in their future, whatever they wind up doing.
But Maria has worries too — she worries her children will lose focus from their studies, that they’ll leave school to get an easy job for quick money. She seeks out programs like Family Science to keep them engaged in learning beyond school, and builds alongside them to model her own curiosity and love of learning.
I only spent a little while with Maria, but I was so inspired by her. We spend a lot of time tinkering with our programs to make them effective and engaging for parents, but it was so special to meet with a parent and talk about everything she brings to the program. Commitment like Maria’s is what makes for a successful Family Science program, and we’re lucky to work with so many parents like her.
A version of this story was also published on the Huffington Post.