Academy Achievers: supporting young people through STEM

Academy Achievers is a community organisation that aims to improve the quality of life for young people in Newham by utilising Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) activities.

In 2018, the organisation was awarded two-year funding from the MOPAC VRU Community Seed Fund (Knife Crime) to deliver anti-knife crime early intervention and outreach through STEM-related activities for young people in Stratford and West Ham.

As part of the Mayor of London’s commitment to reducing and stabilising violence in London and increase feelings of safety, the aim of the Community Seed Fund was to provide funding to support grassroots community groups involved in protecting young people and tackling violence in our communities.

We spoke with Paulette, founder and chief executive of Academy Achievers, to understand how the fund benefitted the organisation and how the Covid-19 pandemic affected their work.

Why did you set up Academy Achievers?

​Now Managing Director, I set up Academy Achievers as a community group in 2006 because I wanted to be a role model for my daughter, Symone, and give her and her school friends the best educational start. As a single mother I understood the challenges that lay ahead, and I did not want our young people to be another statistic. As Head of ICT & E-learning at an outstanding school, I knew that having a good education would open doors of opportunities. I was born and raised in Newham, worked in Lewisham, and lived in Switzerland. So I understand the need for quality education for the local children from all backgrounds

At Academy Achievers’ Saturday school, we were able to use our local church’s hall to offer weekend sessions, I got my friends who were teachers to volunteer their time and support the local young people who were disaffected, vulnerable, disadvantage and underachieving at school. We offered literacy, numeracy, science activities and SATs and A-level preparation. We had over 200 children and young people (CYP) on our waiting list. All the young people that attended Academy Achievers went on to university, including, my daughter who is now about to start her PhD.

We continued to offer extra STEM curriculum in Newham and now we are delivering differently online.

What did it mean to your organisation to receive the MOPAC funding and what did it allow you to do?

This funding helped us to strategically plan and set priorities for how we would achieve our outcomes for children and young people. We delivered anti-knife crime early interventions and outreach through STEM related activities, with 150 disaffected and vulnerable young people aged 11-18 in in receipt of free school meals and pupil premium from 15 schools in Stratford and West Ham.

We offered after school sessions and holiday sessions. The MOPAC funds helped to pay staff to deliver online program activities, offer telephone mentoring where communication lines were open to support and advice CYP during the Covid-19 period.

I lost my nan due to Covid-19, my siblings have been so annoying and my mum is not talking to anybody really. For me, the positive I can take out of this is that Academy Achievers reached out to me and have included me in their planning. I created simple worksheets for the Summer online virtual Camp 2020 so young people can be entertained at home. Having my siblings at home I was able to get them to trail it out first on our old laptop which we share. It was fun!
Young person

How did COVID-19 affect your organisation and your plans?

At the beginning of Covid-19 I was very unsure on how to read what was going on. I had so many parents, emailing, phoning and text messaging us. It was very frustrating, especially when we couldn’t reach our hard-to-reach CYP. Parents were crying, children were misbehaving, fights and domestic violence had literally increased. We saw some of our parents die, and this was so hard for me.

During Covid-19 our offer changed drastically because we had to deliver differently online. As a result of this, only 90 young people were able to access our online activities due to lack of devices and not having internet access. We were able to focus also on developing our organisational structure. The good thing is, as a digital evangelist and thought leader and influencer, I was able to support my team and help them to navigate through the new normal. I now have digital champions working for Academy Achievers who are confident, digitally able and willing to support their communities.

My reflections on the last 6 months are that having the support of MOPAC for delivering programs for CYP and supporting the organisation, has really developed my passion even more.

What are you working on now?

In 2020, we launched the #BeMe campaign to help achieve gender equality and empower black women in technology. It aims to inspire one million BAME girls to engage in STEM fields. We are creating our #BeMe podcast and online mentoring scheme to help our girls to access STEM employment opportunities. We are also working on the following projects: STEM competitions – Internet of Things; Big Data; Robotic Lego tournament competition for Lewisham and Newham to take place June/July online; Virtual online STEAM camps.