CSTA Equity Fellow Leontae Gray Ward is passionate about affording scholars high-quality computer science programming and other STEM opportunities.
CSTA Equity Fellow Leontae Gray Ward is passionate about affording scholars high-quality computer science programming and other STEM opportunities. She is a Project Lead the Way Instructor within the School City of Hammond, Indiana. She Is also the Chief Executive Officer of her company, S.T.E.A.M. City Tek Exec, where she partners with other organizations and travels throughout urban communities to host STEM trainings for youth.
“I define equity within my practice of teaching as the provision of accessibility and affordability based on an individual’s need that ensures successful attainment of opportunities for advancement,” shared Gray Ward. “This can also mean “leveling the playing field” for scholars, intentionally for those with limited access to S.T.E.A.M opportunities.”
Gray Ward’s experience as a high school student selected to attend the Who’s Who Among High School Students – Technology Conference allowed her to transform her exposure into ensuring an equitable approach to teaching.
“Being one out of two African-Americans within my cohort of more than a thousand students from across the United States, I realized that I had a great opportunity that would not have been possible if it were not for the advocacy of my family and teachers along with the financial support that came from community sponsorship,” said Gray Ward. “While that level of exposure revealed my potential to excel in S.T.E.A.M, I still faced challenges, navigating barriers of being academically successful and professionally equipped in a male-dominated field.”
On her seven-year journey as an educator, Gray Ward has discovered some students believe, due to academic gaps, they are failures. “Some teachers have become insensitive to the cultural bias that many of our students have to overcome to excel academically and beyond. I am dedicated to helping Midwest students benefit from my equitable teaching. I bridge the gap between each subject area at the middle school level by presenting students with relatable and real-life scenarios. I practice differentiating each lesson to meet the individual needs of students. This approach helps increase inclusion in the classroom. I encourage students to demonstrate their highest potential.”
Gray Ward has used these approaches to disrupt the inequities related to historically underrepresented minorities and socially disadvantaged students in the classroom:
Scaffolding: She provides clear instruction and expectations when modeling.
Utilizing technology: She has found that gamifying lessons are some of the best ways to keep students engaged in a lesson. She uses Google Apps and other online learning games to promote this interaction.
Collaboration: Gray Ward has discovered that when students work in a collaborative setting with their peers, they can develop their socialization skills, evaluate their own learning style, and learn how to give and receive feedback.
Choice Board: She uses choice boards to provide students the opportunity to choose what, and how, they will learn content. It’s a great differentiating tool for keeping diverse learners engaged in lessons.
Building relationships: Gray Ward develops strong relationships with her students’ parent/guardian(s). “When parents are made aware of their scholar’s progress they develop a greater appreciation for the important role they play in their children’s education.”
To measure success, Gray Ward uses the following methods to check comprehension throughout a lesson:
3,2,1 Strategy: After reviewing a lesson students will recall 3 noteworthy takeaways from the lesson, 2 things of interest to them, and one thing they don’t understand.
Exit Ticket: Students are given an exit ticket, which requires their written response to questions that can be answered in a minute or two, at the end of a class or lesson.
Interactive Quizzes platforms: Quizizz, Kahoot, Quizlet
“These three measuring methods provide me with immediate feedback on how well the lesson was modeled, what concepts and activities students find interesting, and what adjustments I may need to make to the next day’s lesson plans to improve their effectiveness,” said Gray Ward.
Gray Ward has leveraged partnerships and collaborations with people ranging from schools, churches, clubs, local businesses, professional groups, and other organizations to tackle inequalities in computer science education.
“As CEO of my business, I partnered with NFL football player, Kawann Short’s non-profit organization. Together, we tackled inequalities in computer science education by providing students ages 8-16 with 30-minute Computer Science sessions at the Kawann Short Charities – 5th annual S.T.E.A.M & Football Camp 2021,” said Gray Ward. “Additionally, I partnered with City New Life, a local 21st Century Learning Community to provide 5 weeks of 45-minute Computer Science fundamentals courses for students grades K-8 from various schools in Northwest Indiana. In my mentorship capacity, I have a relationship with a NWI Education Training Voucher Specialist to expand the participation of Northwest Indiana foster youth students in computer science classes and career opportunities.”
Gray Ward applied to become a CSTA Equity Fellow to develop her leadership abilities to advocate and communicate more effectively to school administration and community members about the importance of providing students with the opportunity to explore computer science in and out of the classroom.
“With this challenge, I want to learn effective methods to evaluate the conscious and unconscious ways in which bias and internalized racism perpetuate systems of oppression in the computer science field,” shared Gray Ward. “By understanding these barriers, I believe I can improve my strategy in narrowing the inequality and inequity gaps that hinder students from being successful in the computer science field. Additionally, I would like to learn more ways on how to engage stakeholders and funders to assist with expanding the development of Computer Science studies and career pathways in marginalized communities.”
Learn more about the CSTA Equity Fellowship and this year’s cohort here.