Special STEM Program in Bridgeport Promotes Summer Learning and Combats COVID Slide

Jul 10, 2020

By Contributing Editor: Gwendolyn Brantley
Founder and Executive Director, ACCESS Educational Services, Inc.

As I was getting ready to write about Summer Learning Week 2020, my thoughts kept going back to early March of this year.  For ACCESS Educational Services, March 2020 was going to be the start of our 15-year anniversary celebration! It would have been a time to honor hundreds of students – mostly from the Bridgeport area – as well as our Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs, Early Career Awareness and Mentoring programs, and College Preparatory programs.  But as you could guess, plans for website updates, sharing student success stories, and a signature fundraising event all came to a screeching halt as the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Not only did these plans come to a halt, but we had to abruptly close down work with the 500+ children we had in hands-on and project-based STEM activities across Bridgeport Public Schools and a number of other organizations as schools shut down. Our entire ACCESS team was concerned about how this sudden disruption would affect the students, so we worked diligently to develop interim solutions while schools and enrichment programs remained closed. As it became clear that students would be spending the rest of the school year at home engaged in distance learning activities, we looked ahead to summer programming and the innovative pivot we knew we needed to make.

Thanks to support and grant funding from Fairfield County’s Community Foundation this year, ACCESS continues to be committed to providing summer STEM programs!  We have partnered with The Greater Bridgeport STEM Ecosystem (an initiative of the United Way of Coastal Fairfield County), as well as several other youth serving organizations, to offer Camp Aspire for rising students grades 3-8.

ACCESS provides educational and supportive services to students.

We have replaced traditional face-to-face summer enrichment programs with an innovative combination of online and hands-on learning. Camp Aspire participants will each receive a robotics toolkit at home, and will log onto Zoom video sessions for their daily lessons with trained instructors. Camp Aspire is giving students the opportunity to keep learning robotics and specialized skills, such as problem solving and engineering, through the summer months to help combat summer learning loss.  Additionally, new this summer, we are also offering virtual programming to students grades 9 -12 on the topics of Arduinos (special tools used to control electronics), Financial Literacy, and College Prep.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the already massive access and equity gaps in education in Fairfield County.

Exposing Black and other students of Color to STEM is not an easy task.  Under normal circumstances, there are many barriers and challenges – such as lack of student motivation and enthusiasm for STEM, low numbers of STEM teachers, lack of instruction in classrooms, and very limited parental involvement – just to name a few.

A crisis like this makes the already massive access and equity gaps we are all working to close in Fairfield County even more clear. It is vital that we continue our efforts between our partners and allies across the county who are working to support schools, families, and students during these extraordinarily difficult times. These adaptive summer learning initiatives will help keep our region’s youth who are disadvantaged on track for equal growth, achievement, and opportunity.

ACCESS Educational Services’ FIRST® LEGO® League engages children ages 9 to 16 in research, problem solving, coding, and engineering.



Gwendolyn Brantley, MS
Founder and Executive Director,
ACCESS Educational Services, Inc.

ACCESS Educational Services, Inc. was founded in 2005 by Gwendolyn Brantley, a native of Bridgeport, CT and former Human Resources Professional. In her early career years she worked in various industries including Technology, Health, and Education where she quickly learned that the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math would be the careers of the future. While working for these industries as a single mom, she became concerned about the disparities and lack of exposure that her own son faced as an African American male in emerging STEM fields as well as for every young person in the community in which she grew up and still resides. Recognizing this need, she charted a Pre-College Initiative program that falls under The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), commonly known as ACCESS NSBE Jr. Chapter as an idea and mission to expose underserved youth to STEM.

The first group of students included her son, children of relatives, and close friends. Thanks to one of the city’s oldest organizations, Bridgeport’s Black Pride, Gwen was given the platform to promote NSBE and STEM in the early years, which laid the foundation for the many successes ACCESS achieved over the past 15 years. ACCESS received it’s 501c3 status in 2012 and has grown to offer several different STEM-focused academic programs, as well as partners with other non-profits, corporations, and educational organizations. Gwen also works as a Consultant with the United Way of Fairfield County, leading the efforts of The Greater Bridgeport STEM Ecosystem, a global initiative that along with over 35 community and business partners is improving STEM educational opportunities for hundreds of Pre-K through 12th grade school students.