When schools shut down because of COVID-19, countless parents were unsure about keeping their kids educated, and many still are with the upcoming school year. After all, few of us had online classes, so … how do you make sure their brain is soaking up the info?
Two women from Detroit, Alecia Gabriel and Deirdre Roberson, were already positioned to meet that need with their company The Lab Drawer. Founded in 2017, it was well established before COVID-19 hit.
This subscription service sends boxes with everything kids need for hands-on learning in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) every month.
The boxes begin arriving within 30 days of the order and are aimed at kids age 10-14. The drawer concept is inspired by how labs are set up in higher education.
As one would expect from two women with advanced degrees planning for each box starts months in advance. Gabriel has a PhD in chemistry and Roberson a masters in the same field.
Everything from theorizing, to making a lesson plan, to collecting materials is done to make sure there is plenty of time to get every detail needed into the subject matter.
“(We have) actually been brought in to help with virtual learning,” says Roberson.
They also use the Next Generation Science Standards style of teaching, which focuses on a creative and question-based form of learning.
The two women are no strangers to teaching.
They partnered with Michigan Women Forward and Motor City S.T.E.A.M. to create “Virtual-S.T.E.A.M” (VirtualScience/Technology/Engineering/Arts/Math). During the two-week UGOSTEMGirls program, girls work with women scientists and entrepreneurs from Detroit to put together experiments in a box sent directly to their homes
They have also helped set up curriculums for several Wayne State University programs for pre-college students. Those curriculums include the C2 Pipeline STEM Challenge Program, Trio Upward Bound Program, and the Wayne State Biomedical Career Advance Program.
The latter had students studying COVID-19 and its effects on the immune, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems this past summer.
“It is important for the students to be told you can do this,” says Gabriel. “That there are people solving the crisis.”
This dedication may one reason Gabriel and Roberson recently won first place in Tech Town’s Start Studio Spring 2020 Virtual Showcase pitch competition.
“Start Studio provided us with immense knowledge and insight about our customers and their needs. It has changed the way we look at and approach our business,” says Gabriel.
With the $1,500 they won they plan to hire several employees. Right now, the two women do most of the work gathering materials and mailing them. Adding people could greatly increase the number of potential boxes sent. There have been times that they have sold out of boxes, so the extra help could make a real difference.
Over the past summer subscriptions grew notably as some schools started virtual learning.
The company grew out of Motor City S.T.E.A.M., a non-profit, which focused on teaching STEM and the arts to kids. Both of which were born out of a belief they have that STEAM is no longer optional.
Or, as The Lab Drawer’s website states, “advanced degrees in STEAM will no longer be accomplishments, but the standard.”
Gabriel and Roberson see these skills as vital to the success of young people in the future. They also feel the COVID pandemic uncovered many of the problems already present in the school system and hope their program will help fill in those gaps.
While they began in Detroit, both attended Cass Technical High School, and have a love for the city, their plans don’t end at the border.
In the midst of the COVID pandemic, they began getting orders from other places such as Las Vegas and California. This set Gabriel and Roberson to thinking about expansion.
While not wanting to get too ahead of themselves, they have begun talking about just how to move to other parts of the country and expand globally. They are currently focusing on how to translate lessons across cultural differences.
Interested parties in Detroit or elsewhere can learn more or subscribe here.