As an aspiring volcano scientist, 9-year-old Jayvonte Cole can't wait to get his hands on scientific technology.
So when the city of St. Paul brought a mobile program to his Dayton's Bluff neighborhood rec center, he greeted it with enthusiasm.
"Save my spot for me!" he told his friends on a recent evening when a gaming truck with virtual reality systems parked outside. "I'm going to try VR."
The truck, filled with flat screen TVs and video game consoles, will be an attraction at several St. Paul events this summer as part of a series of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics [STEM] programs held by the city called Summer Swarm. It's a chance to expose children to coding, building robots and racing drones. The idea is to get them interested in STEM fields.
"It's important because technology, science, all those things are embedded in what we do daily," said Andy Rodriguez, program coordinator and St. Paul's recreation services manager. "Kids nowadays are growing up acclimated to touch-screen devices and other things. It's very much integrated into various professions regardless of what you do."
Dozens of events are planned at libraries, recreation centers and parks through late August.
Summer Swarm is part of Mayor Melvin Carter's "Tech for All" initiative, aimed at bolstering the city's digital economy by reaching out to women and residents of color.
"Summer Swarm activities provide an array of opportunities to spark interest, and engage our youth as they learn, grow, and prepare to join our 21st century workforce," Carter said.
Some events are scheduled in advance. Others are Tuesday and Thursday "pop-ups" that will have locations announced the day they are held. They move around St. Paul, aiming to bring Summer Swarm directly to communities, eliminating travel barriers for kids who might otherwise have a hard time getting to the events.
The Tech for All programming was first held last summer, offering kids something to do during coronavirus restrictions. Rodriguez said it was a hit, prompting organizers to step it up this year with extra attractions.
The events are funded through city grants and partnerships, Rodriguez said. The Science Museum of Minnesota and other organizations donate some of the materials, while equipment such as the gaming tr uck is rented. Music brings an extra dose of fun to many of the events.
"It's just really beautiful to see the look on their faces when they get to pull up," said Glorius Martin, who DJs the events.
The events are open to the public. Some kids come from other rec center programs, while others just show up from around the neighborhood.
Patrice Comodore, a Summer Swarm attendee, said she was happy about the chance to get her hands on the technology.
"My science teacher sometimes doesn't show up that much. So we don't really get to do science," said Comodore. "But I like it a lot."
"[The mobile gaming truck is] where everybody gathers up, and you can play games together like a whole family," said 10-year-old A'Jadea Lundy. "You can watch them play, just have fun, see them smile. You can smile with them."
The schedule for Summer Swarm events can be found at tinyurl.com/bf9n3n8d.
Zekriah Chaudhry • 612-673-7186