Why Building 21st Century Skills is so Critical to Our Future

As I write this, I am full of excitement and anticipation about what’s happening at MLCS and deeply appreciative of where we have been. Last week, we rolled out Summertime Makers, a new robotics program and we are also in the midst of creating a new after school Makerspace for kids ages 7-12 that will open this fall. This shift is how we will help children and youth in our community to power their potential, build 21st century skills and reach their goals. These programs and others such as EastieCoders, our new self-paced coding program, are designed to provide points of entry into technical skill-building opportunities and a prosperous future.

An approach focused on building 21st century skills is critical right now. The skills shortage we face as a nation and a local community and tech hub, is well documented.

And just what do we mean by 21st century skills? The P21: Partnership for 21st Century Learning has created a framework developed with input from teachers, education experts, and business leaders to define the skills that are and will continue to be in demand for the higher skilled jobs of the future. These include career and life skills, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration, and information, media, and tech skills.

And in East Boston, home to a significant Latino population, there are both opportunities and challenges.

A recent report from The Boston Foundation (TBF), Powering Greater Boston’s Economy: Why the Latino Community Is Critical to Our Shared Future, makes the case. Latinos make up 24 percent of births and 31 percent of children, contributing to Boston’s population of the future. We are a growing share of Boston’s future workforce but widely underrepresented in STEM fields.

As a young Latina growing up in Lawrence, I received messages from society at large about what I could and could not accomplish. I wonder who I could have been given the opportunity and exposure to STEM activities as a child.  And now, as an adult, I am deeply excited by the opportunity at hand. Children and youth who come to our tech lab are with us from 4 to 8—during critical after school hours. Our location is in the heart of a housing community that is 77% subsidized and families live here for a long time. Just steps from their homes, we watch babies become toddlers; toddlers become children; children become teens; and teens become adults.

Boston is a hub of high-skill jobs. This will only continue. And people who have the skills will benefit. As a neighborhood-based organization, we stand uniquely positioned to build a STEM talent pipeline that starts right here in Eastie. To do so, we must start young, build opportunities for continued exposure to STEM activities, and inspire young minds.

This past week I had the privilege of witnessing just how transformational this work can be. During the orientation for our summer robotics program, one young woman seemed disengaged. After the first session with the robotics coach, she knocked on my door grinning from ear to ear to tell me about her experience. I could see that something had shifted for her.

There is a deep sense of empowerment that is created when we challenge ourselves to new heights and create something new—something that did not previously exist.


  1. Inez Foster on July 27, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    These programs are critical if we are serious about building opportunities for young people to thrive and for communities to prosper. Excellent work, Rita!!

  2. Bithiah Carter on July 27, 2017 at 6:36 pm

    Great Article…

  3. Joanna Cataldo on July 27, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    It can be difficult for young people (all people!) to try new things. But here is ML providing an opportunity for important and relevant learning in a safe and fun environment! Great things are happening! Congrats Rita and the team at ML!

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