Kiki Chen Builds a Future for Kids

The Kids Elite founder creates a thriving after-school program in Alameda with a STEAM emphasis.


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Photo by Paul Haggard

When Kids Elite opened for enrollment in September 2017 in Alameda, only one student registered, but founder Kiki Chen did not give up on her dream for a successful after-school STEAM program for kids. Today, the roster at Kids Elite is full.

“I feel like this is my calling. This is the best reward anyone can possibly ask for. I love bringing children a positive point of view and to help expand their minds in the most helpful way possible,” Chen said.

For her adult life, Chen has devoted her career to children’s development and education.

“I have always been driven by children’s education,” she said. “I am very excited to be involved in their development. It’s been the most rewarding experience.”

Chen moved to Alameda in 2011 and soon began a teaching job with Language Alive, a program that provides Mandarin after-school classes at public elementary schools in Alameda through the Alameda Education Foundation.

In 2014, the owner of Language Alive decided to leave the company and asked Chen if she wanted to take over. Chen saw the opportunity as a challenge she could not pass up. While successfully running Language Alive, Chen also envisioned opening a STEAM-based after-school program in a building of her own, providing children the groundwork for 21st-century critical thinking, problem solving, and creative thinking skills.

In 2017, she and business partner Cesar Hernandez opened such a program, Kids Elite, at 1429 High St. across the street from Lincoln Park. A nonschool day camp, after-school program, and summer camp, Kids Elite offers language classes and STEAM curriculum to kids ages 4 to 12.

Kids Elite operates around a philosophy of social responsibility, innovation, empowerment, environmental awareness, inspiration, and creativity, using projects, inquiry, games, and collaborative, hands-on learning to help raise a generation of leaders.

“At Kids Elite, children will learn to operate microscopes, 3-D printers, computer hardware, telescopes, Arduino, cooking, art, and more,” Chen said. “We have seen amazing things being accomplished by children as young as kindergarten in building Arduino.”

Arduino is a hardware and software platform that is used for building electronic projects such as motion-triggered nightlights, robotic arms, computer control panels, and more. Chen said that one of her students, 5-year-old Chase, has a passion for Arduino building and altering its code.

“He worked with a group of other children to build a door alarm for Kids Elite. He also built a sensor that would read accurate humidity levels in the air. We took a laptop to the park and moved throughout the park capturing the different humidity level readings from his project.”

Chen makes sure to integrate lessons on innovative women who have paved the groundwork for others, such as Peggy Whitson, for breaking the record for most spacewalks by a female astronaut, and Marry Anning, who she said inspired many woman and children to search for and document fossils.

“Some of her discoveries, such as a complete Plesiosaur fossil, are still being displayed to this day in London, England. She found this amazing specimen at the age of 12 years old. I feel honored to be one of the woman entrepreneurs that has a hand in setting an example for the next generation.”

Chen credits the Kids Elite staff for making the success of Kids Elite possible and Hernandez for bringing in IT engineering and multiple skillsets.

While the Kids Elite after-school program is currently full, there are openings in the nonschool day camp programs, and Chen encouraged parents and their children to schedule a tour. Learn more at KidsEliteClub.com.

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