Twenty-five schools in the Washington region are receiving grants from Amazon to expand computer-science opportunities and start robotics clubs in low-income and underserved communities.
The schools — including 13 in the District, six in Alexandria and four in Arlington in Northern Virginia, and two in Prince George’s County in Maryland — were among 100 schools near Amazon sites that received money from the online retail behemoth.
Alexandria Schools Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings Jr. announced the award Wednesday to a classroom of students at Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology. School system officials heralded the grant, which also covers professional development for educators, as a way to boost participation in advanced science classes and bring more opportunities to students who might not otherwise have access to them.
“People believe in all of you to make sure that you have the experiences that you need to go out in this world and thrive,” Hutchings told the youngsters. “We want to have a pipeline that goes from elementary to middle into our high school out into a career or a college.”
Schools in 21 states, including California, Texas and New Jersey, were grant recipients. About half the schools that received the award, including several in the District, belong to KIPP, the country’s largest charter school network.
The grant was available to schools near Amazon sites that participate in the federal government’s Title I program, which provides extra funding to schools that educate a high percentage of students from low-income families.
At Cora Kelly, 78 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged, state data show. Sixty-eight percent of students are Hispanic and 19 percent are black, two groups that have historically been underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, widely known as STEM.
The Amazon Future Engineer Robotics Grant covers the costs of registration to start a robotics club with FIRST, a group dedicated to boosting STEM education and that hosts robotics competitions. Schools will receive an additional $10,000 designated for expanding computer-science education.
Christina Lytle, a mentor to the robotics team at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, learned about the grant through FIRST.
“You don’t want to have barriers for kids to participate in activities,” she said. “All of our schools and all of our kids should have access to these kinds of programs.”
Lytle’s daughter, Leslie, had belonged to robotics teams in the community since she was young. But it wasn’t until she began at T.C. Williams that she could participate in school ones.
“Bringing access to these teams at younger and younger ages I think is so important,” Leslie Lytle, a senior at T.C. Williams, said. “It really sets you up really well to go on to middle school and high school and then college and beyond.”
While the grant was warmly received in Alexandria, Amazon’s presence in the region has been divisive as it prepares to build a second headquarters in Crystal City. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Supporters laud the jobs and economic boost the company is expected to bring to the region. Critics fear that an influx of well-paid workers will alter the character of working-class neighborhoods. They also say that Amazon doesn’t need or deserve public subsidies and that the company has not engaged well with the community.
The Arlington County Board recently approved $23 million in incentives for the online company after six hours of public testimony and debate at a meeting frequently disrupted with jeers.