Photo Essay: What happens when kids become the tech expert?

By: Melly Lee
Families share what happens when kids become tech experts
What I learned that adults don’t know

There comes a moment in every child-adult relationship when suddenly, the adult doesn’t know everything. When an adult stares, open-mouthed, as their kid does something they completely don’t understand with a dawning realization that this child has a whole lot to teach them as well.

Moments like these happen just about every day for the parents and guardians of boys participating in Verizon Innovative Learning. The two-year program teaches middle school boys cutting-edge skills in science, technology, engineering and math.

How does that change the relationship between kids and the adults in their lives? At a recent event for the program, Verizon interviewed eight families on what it’s like to raise super smart and techy kids.

Sydne Frazier, 12, and his mother, Courtney Ayers.

I can 3-D print a basketball

3-D design is one of the most popular subjects among these young makers. Using sites such as Tinkercad, students can instantly start building whatever pops into their heads. Sydne Frazier, a 12-year-old from Monarch Academy in Baltimore, Maryland, picked up the skills in a flash.

“I’m really getting the hang of it now and know how to develop apps and do 3-D design. I made a basketball hoop, a basketball, a jersey, and a keychain with my app!”

His prolific streak has impressed his mother, Courtney Ayers, “I’ve never seen anything that was printed with a 3-D printer in real life, so my first time being exposed to that was through him. Technology definitely helps brings the family together, especially with him learning so much more advanced  technology. He’s actually becoming the teacher.”

Jalen, 13, and his parents William and Laura Fairley.

I can make my own music app

Jalen Fairley, from Greensboro, North Carolina, enjoys music and uses it as his inspiration for the types of apps he builds. Over the summer he participated in the Verizon Innovative Learning app challenge, where students conceptualize innovative app ideas to solve for a problem in their community. Jalen combined his affinity for music and aptitude for coding by designing a music app for Def Jam.

“We had a lot of screens, a color scheme and about seven days of coding just for one app. It was pretty simple, but at the same time pretty hard.  I loved the way it turned out in the end,” Jalen explains.

This changed the way his mom, Laura Fairley, views him at home. “He has taught me persistence through development. His character shines through with his love of music and while doing some of the competitions. It was cool to see him have to demonstrate to his peers how his app was created and developed. That was a proud moment for me as a mom.”

Keegan, 14, and his mother Dorothy Lockhart.

I’m my mom’s tech support

Parents have been learning for generations that having a kid who is keen on new technology means you also have instant in-house tech support.

Keegan Lockhart, 14, is an expert at troubleshooting his family’s tech problems. He explained that just a few days ago, his mother, Dorothy, turned to him on a flight to ask for his expert assistance.

“My mom was working on her laptop and she sat her laptop down and then her screen flipped. She was freaking out and so she gave the computer to me. I just hit control and left arrow, which turned the screen back around. I felt smart because I was teaching an adult.”

Dorothy hails him as the family’s computer expert in their home in Lexington, Kentucky. “Whenever I have any IT issues, I just call my expert Keegan to come help me.” It’s a good thing too, because her younger son is the family hacker. “I [also] have a 4-year-old son and he’s been able to take my iPhone, delete all my apps and then add his own apps with in-app purchases. That cost me about $40 before I knew what he was doing.”

Chundra Lott and her sons, Jonathan, 15, Christopher, 11 and Benjamin, 13.

We can hack our way to an easier day at home

Chundra Lott’s sons, Jonathan, Benjamin and Christopher, hope to pursue careers in aviation engineering, mechanical engineering, and video game design, respectively. As they work towards their futures, the brothers love to share what they’ve learned back at home.

“They all learned how to download apps to make things more convenient at home, like of course, remote controls apps,” Chundra explains.

Didier Osias, 13, and his mother Kemi Ladeji-Osias

I can design a better bus stop

Kids like Didier Osias, 13, are built to find solutions for the daily bumps in the road. For instance, Didier noticed that paper bus schedules aren’t always accurate. So he dreamed up an overhaul of bus stops in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, with interactive screens that could reflect more accurate timetables.

“What makes the bus stop smart is how it’s integrated with different technologies like smart phones,” explains Didier.

“It’s not just going to just sit there on paper. Instead [the stops] will have screens with actual real-time information. That’s more helpful than just a schedule, because buses run off schedule.”

Kemi credits Didier’s and other kids’ creative minds to having the unlimited possibility of time and childhood before them. “They go from what they’ve been taught or what comes out of basic functionality to looking up the secret of how to do things. I think technology has provided an outlet for Didier’s creativity.”

Dalen, 14, and his parents Nekesha and David Cozart.

I can prove I finished my homework

Dalen Cozart, 14 is very active on Carter G. Woodson Academy’s football team in Lexington Kentucky. As an academic requirement, Dalen and his teammates have to finish their homework before heading off to practice.

To ensure that their homework is completed thoroughly, Assistant Principal Nekesha Cozart, who also happens to be Dalen’s mom, has each of the boys text her a picture of their finished assignments before excusing them for practice. Nekesha says the boys have the same or even greater enthusiasm for STEM.

“Overall, listening to their conversations, you can tell that they’re grasping the concepts and they’re thinking of ways to apply them to life,” she explained “I was fairly shocked at the amount of interest that they displayed in that. They get really excited about it.”

“That enthusiasm about learning just shows that once it’s given to them in a way that they can understand it they will grasp it and will fly with it.”

Cousins Christina Robinson and Aaron Graham, 15.

We can snapshot our travels

Aaron Graham and his guardian, Christina Robinson, are cousins who share a family affinity for texting so they can stay connected to the rest of their family while traveling. Christina jokingly shares humble-brag photos of their travels while Aaron checks in with other family members between visits.

“We can shoot them a picture and say ‘Oh hey, this is what we get to experience. Aren’t you sad that you’re not here?’ and rub it in their face in a loving way. It’s an amazing resource to stay in communication with each other,” explains Christina.

Aaron, from Greensboro Day School in Greensboro, North Carolina, prefers the flexibility of checking in via text messaging instead of always making in-person visits with more distant family. “It’s good to check up on your family every once in a while.  You can talk to family faster instead of having to go all the way out there.”

Bryce, 14, and his mother Lisa Jones.

If we don’t have it, I can 3-D print it

Bryce Jones, 14, has always had a habit of poking around common computer programs such as Microsoft PowerPoint to figure them out. But after some training in app-making and 3-D printing, he’s become a fluent multi-tasker. He’s often found working on a homework assignment with headphones on, talking to a talking to a friend or two and helping members in his family with new technology.

“Bryce has taught me that you could use a 3-D-design app every day, to design something for your home or maybe to print a tool for you to use.”  Lisa says Bryce has learned and shown her “how doing science and technology can be applied to all different aspects of your life.”

Blowing their family’s minds on a daily basis is only one accomplishment of a Verizon Innovative Learning student.

Melly Lee is a conceptual photographer with a BA from the University of California, Irvine whose clients include Google, Warner Bros., LEGO, and Harper Collins.