Amazon donates money to Valley school STEM program

Phoenix--Online retailer Amazon.com donated $5,000 to Cesar Chavez High School on Wednesday in support of organizations looking to expand student programs in science, technology, engineering and math.

In addition, more than 40 students from Gila Crossing Community School were invited to participate in Camp Amazon, a free robotics program put on by the company at its fulfillment center in Phoenix. A series of activities were offered to students that included operating a robotic arm high school students built.

This is the first time Amazon offered such a program to students in the Phoenix area, and it is in partnership with Science Foundation Arizona, which has a mission is to grow education in technology and science.

Linda Coyle, Science Foundation Arizona's education director, said Camp Amazon gives students the opportunity to get involved in STEM at an early age.

"They know we have to invest in students now to invest in the future," Coyle said.

After several Valley cities lost their bid to lure Amazon's second headquarters, Coyle said the results show there is a strong need to educate the next generation of students in STEM fields to attract big companies. One of Amazon's HQ2 demands is a city that can retain and grow a strong technology talent pool.

One goal of the Science Foundation Arizona is to grow STEM education for low-income students and minorities.

In Arizona, students of color trail their white counterparts in math and science proficiencies, according to the Education Commission of the States, an organization that tracks education policies. The commission found white fourth-graders were understanding subjects in math and sciences better than black and Hispanic students. About 50 percent of white fourth-graders were proficient in math while only 23 percent of Hispanics and 13 percent of blacks were proficient in that subject.

"We have to educate more of the unrepresented minority kids in school and teach them to be creators in tech," Coyle said.

Cesar Chavez High School offers a program to teach high school students how to code through its Native American Code Writers initiative, which received $500,000 in funding passed through the Arizona Legislature in May. Students from this coding program created the robotic arms used by the kids at Camp Amazon.

Amazon representatives also gave students a tour of the center. Students were able to pack boxes of Amazon items into a simulated truck and were shown Amazon's large robotic arm used for stacking.

"The Science Foundation Arizona does a great job inspiring STEM education, and whatever we can do to help further that innovation within the schools we want to make sure we are a part of," said Matthew High, Amazon general manager at the center.