It’s spring break for Nashville Metro schools, and Y-CAP participant Jaylon Hatchett is tapping away on a laptop in the Margaret Maddox Family YMCA teen center. He’s not playing games or even catching up on homework. The assignment before him is much more unique: he’s learning how to program a robot.

Jaylon shuffles a series of blocks on his computer screen to create a sequence that feeds into a box-shaped robot made from LEGOs. For the tenth time, he places it on the floor and lets it go, hoping this time it’ll clear the ottoman obstructing its path. And it does. He grabs the robot and eagerly returns to the laptop to program it for another, more complex challenge.

“You have to calibrate the time, manage its speed, the turning,” he says. “It’s interesting how everything comes together. And you have to do multiple tests to get it right.”

Teaching skills, building potential

Jaylon is one of 13 Y-CAP students who learned the basics of robotics—and explored what it means to work in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) career field—through a week-long STEM camp made possible by the YMCA and a $20,000 grant from Google Fiber. The grant will fund three more camps—which all include a field trip to Google Fiber’s Nashville offices—for students in the YMCA’s Y-CAP, Black Achievers and Latino Achievers outreach programs.

“We’re excited that they’re able to have this opportunity,” said Y-CAP senior program director Rachel Folk. “And they’re excited. Anytime they can get up and move is really fun.”

All week long, the students engaged in hands-on activities focused on both practical skills—like coding and building—and the values needed to achieve their fullest potential in any career: teamwork, problem solving, communication, managing conflict.

“They’re having success with something that a lot of people see as a higher level skill,” said Jaime Hatch of the Adventure Science Center, which teamed up with the Y to teach the camp curriculum. “Now they can think, ‘I can be doing this as a job in the future.’”

Giving our youth opportunities to thrive

It’s this equal emphasis on skill development, character building and career readiness delivered in a safe, structured environment that defines YMCA youth programs, which reach more than 81,000 children and teens every year when they’re not in school. To learn more about all the ways we’re nurturing the potential of Middle Tennessee’s youth, click here.