The Buck Leonard Association for Sports and Human Enrichment utilized the sheltered-in period of the pandemic to plan and identify resources that children and families would need post-pandemic.

The association partnered with the Monk Youth Jazz STEAM Collective of New Haven, Conn., to remedy compounded learning deficits, social and emotional setbacks and significant furtherance of health and physical needs after children in the target population experienced months of inactivity.

We developed a six-week Virtual Summer Academy that enabled youth residing in Rocky Mount to participate with children in New Haven, Conn. The Monk Center employed the volunteer services of university professors, doctors, and local educators to help conduct the academy.

The association engaged the local volunteer services of surgeon Dr. Lisa Nelson, a graduate of Yale Medical School, and neurosurgeon Dr. Kim Koo, a graduate of the Temple School of Medicine, to help develop the Introduction to Medicine Academy.

“It was an honor and privilege to participate in the Buck Leonard and Thelonious Monk STEAM program,” Nelson said. “Working with the youth was a joy. We need to do more of these programs to stimulate interest and inspire our youth to join the sciences, arts and technical fields.”

The doctors introduced children to medicine via the major body systems while having participants explore issues associated with socioeconomic factors as determinants of health. To personalize content exploration, children examined patient histories by selecting a disease familiar to them and prevalent in their community, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, COVID-19, cancer, diabetes and arthritis.


“I feel honored to be called upon by the collaborators of the Monk-Buck Leonard associations in the STEM program, to introduce the medical profession — neurosurgery in particular — to children and young adults,” Koo said. “My explanations in the introduction to neurosurgery to the young people has also been a learning experience for me as well. The STEM Program is an excellent encouragement for many young folks in disadvantaged communities to understand they have untapped potentials and to relentlessly strive to achieve their goals.”

In addition to the introduction to medicine, The Monk Center mailed medical and engineering learning materials to participants, twenty in all. The academy offered law, engineering, dance, Black history studies and music.

A theater component also had been planned and will be part of the next STEAM Academy. The Buck Leonard Association has connected with Melton Pot Productions and Christine Melton, who the Monk Institute recruited, to teach acting and playwriting.

The association hopes to co-present Melton’s play, “Miss Ida B,” with a cast of actors that will include children and parents who have participated in the STEAM Academy and other programs over the years. Association COO Brian Patterson will be one of the actors.

The STEAM Academy will resume next year for children in grades 4-12. For information, contact buckleonard91@gmail.com.