The Neurokidz: Teen-Led Nonprofit Educating and Empowering Underprivileged Children

The Neurokidz: Teen-Led Nonprofit Educating and Empowering Underprivileged Children

The NeuroKidz a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization established and led by high school students, founded by Nethra Srinivasan in 2018. The platform is dedicated to enriching the lives of children from various backgrounds by giving them exposure to neuroscience through fun and interactive learning. Learn more in our interview with Nethra.

All images provided by The NeuroKidz.

Please tell us about your non-profit, The Neurokidz.

Mental health and substance abuse are devastating social issues plaguing our community. 50% of mental health conditions in children 14 years or younger originate from societal pressures such as toxic comparisons, cyberbullying and lack of education. Some kids from underserved communities have given up hope of gaining education and a stable work life, and children in lower socioeconomic status are even more susceptible to this stress.

I realized that if kids knew how their brains worked, they would know how to cope with pressure and would not resort to drugs. This is why I became a mental health and early neuroscience education advocate. I started my nonprofit to teach neuroscience to underprivileged elementary and middle school students to challenge their curiosity, help them implement healthy habits, and develop into mindful and emotionally-strong individuals. On a larger scale, I wanted to combat the societal problems I saw around me.

The NeuroKidz, in 2018 to advocate and teach neuroscience to underprivileged elementary and middle school students around the world. I worked with school principals to include neuroscience as an after school activity and advocated for inclusion in the school curriculum. I initiated outreach on various social media platforms, which resulted in connecting 1250+ kids with 70+ volunteers in 10 states and 6 countries. We have also successfully collaborated with School Linked Services and Allcove in Santa Clara County to conduct workshops in the county’s 15 school districts for middle and high schools to promote healthy brains and neuroscience from October 2021.

When I started this program, students at first were uninterested, but within a few classes, they began to see this program as the highlight of their week. They themselves would give me ideas for activities for the next week, would bring puzzles, and would prepare brain teasers and riddles to share with the class as part of our warmups. I remember a 3rd grader, Danielle. She came from a difficult background and always sat in the back of the class. But this one day, she ran up to me with her neuron model, thanking me profusely during our workshop at her school. She said it was the first time she had ever done something this fun in science, and it touched me, since I was able to open a new avenue for her to get involved in STEM.

What is The Neurokidz’ mission? What is the non-profit all about?

Our mission statement is “where education meets empowerment, one brain at a time.” The NeuroKidz, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization established by high school students, is a platform dedicated to enriching the lives of children from various backgrounds by giving them exposure to neuroscience through STEAM while promoting mental health. We partner with elementary and middle schools in our community to spread a greater understanding of neuroscience through interactive lessons and hands-on activities.

Can you tell us about The Neurokidz’ different interactive lessons and hands-on activities?

The purpose of these stimulating activities and engaging lessons is that instead of enforcing growth through rote memorization, The NeuroKidz advocates conceptual learning through enjoyment, allowing students to truly grasp what is being taught to them and apply their knowledge to enhance their lives.

Some examples would be employing virtual simulations to model neural pathways, or test the sensitivity of touch on skin through experimentation on various parts of the hand and arm. Students are able to explore for themselves what it means to be a sentient being, and how to become the best versions of themselves.

As founder, what do your responsibilities include? Can you describe how you balance your time? 

I create specific curriculum, as well as coordinate with volunteer teachers around the globe. I also teach students in my community, work with parents and schools, and conduct workshops at libraries. While in high school, I was also a researcher at UCSF, president of several school clubs and organizations, volunteer at a skilled nursing facility, and Indian classical dance teacher among various hobbies.

I found that keeping a tight schedule while doing the things I love allowed me to stay productive while maintaining my mental health. As I enter college, I aim to continue this mindset and find new opportunities while pursuing The NeuroKidz’s mission in Cleveland.

What have been the biggest challenges of founding and running The Neurokidz? What is most rewarding?

I was a shy child and would dread public speaking. Teaching neuroscience built my confidence in public speaking, communication, and patience. Initially several kids were forced to attend our sessions because their parents needed an after-school activity so they could work.

Marcus in particular was a troublemaker. He used to constantly distract the class and tease other students. Knowing his interests, I created dinosaur-related activities for him to learn about the brain. He slowly started participating in our class and his parents saw improvements.

That reminded me why I started this program – to brighten the lives of these young people. I realized that bright students turn to bad habits sometimes associated with lower socio-economic status because they are not taught to harness their potential. I believe that we can break the cycle of poverty by teaching them good practices and building confidence in their abilities, which is why I designed the program as it is.

I learned as much from the kids as they learned from me. I acquired life skills, such as curiosity, patience and grit that are useful when recruiting new volunteers and stakeholders since I have to be persistent to achieve positive results. I acquired time management, leadership and organization skills through managing multiple volunteers, schools, and students while juggling my schoolwork and other extracurriculars. Each interaction with the kids transformed me into a new person.

What is your best advice to other students who want to launch an initiative like this?

I believe that anyone, regardless of age, can step up to serve our community in a time of need. Giving is addictive and everybody benefits. I truly believe that generosity and kindness has a geometric network effect on improving our society. Find a purpose and go all the way to make sure that it is achieved; in the end it will be worth it.

What do you do in your free time?

I enjoy dance, volunteering, traveling, photography, hiking, and music!

What does the future hold for The Neurokidz and for the The Neurokidz team?

We hope to continue expanding across the globe, bringing neuroscience and early mental health education to every child to foster a stronger and healthier community.

What does the future hold for you, Nethra?

I will be attending Case Western Reserve University in the fall, where I will be majoring in neuroscience as an aspiring physician.

Learn more about The NeurokidzRead more Rustic Spirit stories.