Over the past eight years, CIRA’s grants program has funded 185 community-led internet projects across Canada. Our role in the grant-making space has afforded us the unique opportunity to fund a variety of projects that help shape the Canadian digital landscape. We’re exploring one grant recipient’s project and the role CIRA played, to highlight the impact of a CIRA grant, and to encourage applications from groups across Canada working to bridge our digital divides.
The STEAM Centre is tucked away in the small town of St. Thomas, Ontario. Executive Director Fred Cahill and Program Educator Dakota Ireland, among others, have created a space dedicated to providing students with science, technology, engineering, art and mathematical skills. The centre facilitates numerous hands-on opportunities including facility tours and workshops.
So why did the STEAM Centre apply for a CIRA grant? Since its inception, the Centre has been primarily focused on providing digital literacy programming to students at Antler River Elementary School, which sits on the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. The team saw a need to deliver programming to low income and at-risk Indigenous youth in the community, along with a need to address the gap in digital literacy amongst local elementary school students. With the vision of combining Indigenous ways of knowing with STEAM-focused digital literacy education, the iSTEAM project was born.
The project initially catered to students ages 10-13 at Antler River Elementary School, but soon expanded to students at Standing Stone Elementary School. With the goal of merging the academic curriculum with new technology, the programming consisted of weekly workshops during the school year and a 3-day summer camp. These workshops encouraged students to develop new digital literacy skills as well as enhance soft skills, such as critical thinking. Some key workshop activities included learning stop motion video, coding video games, and utilizing digital drawing applications. By teaching one generation of Indigenous youth STEAM related skills, the team hoped that it would inspire a new accessibility to Indigenous art and culture in the digital age.