By Alain Castillo
Joseph Ruiz sees the world as a big ball of mystery that still needs to be explored. Once he discovers its secrets, he wants to lead and be its hero.
“There are so many things we don’t know yet...people are trying to figure out the mysteries of the world,” said Joseph, 12. “I want to be one of these people that finds out these mysteries.”
[caption id="attachment_17858" align="alignleft" width="179" caption="Together brothers Ray and Joseph Ruiz built PhotonKids.com."][/caption]
Joseph, who attends KIPP Liberation College Preparatory, a charter school in the Houston, Texas area, is passionate about space. He loves space so much that he already knows what he wants to be when he gets older — an astrophysicist.
In fact at KIPP Liberation, a school for at-risk and low-income students, Joseph is already on his way to achieving his career goals. Joseph has created a couple of projects that bring his interest in space closer to home.
For starters, Joseph built a seismograph, with the help of his dad, for a school project. The instrument demonstrated how quakes could be measured on other planets.
“I want to find out the mysteries of space,” he said, and shared that he is currently exploring the location of other Earth-like planets in the galaxy.
Yet, Joseph wants to share his passion with others and make a difference within his community at the same time.
He and his brother, Raymond Ruiz, 31, a graduate education student at the University of Houston, worked together and created a kid-friendly website called Photon Kids.
Joseph is currently its webmaster.
“After learning that many minority kids don’t do well in math and science, he set out to help others share in his passion,” said the elder Ruiz.
Joseph started to grow his website after it was well-received at KIPP Liberation.
After presenting his website for his school’s community service project, his teachers and peers became more interested.
“Joseph’s website is excellent. It is very appealing to both adults and youth,” said Ashley Warren, his current math teacher at KIPP. “His website is very easy to navigate, even for a novice.”
Since January, Photon Kids has attracted 1,800 visitors.
On the website, which Joseph updates daily, visitors find a range of interesting news and activities. Visitors can read the latest updates on the Mars Rover, look up definitions of space vocabulary in the “Space Dictionary” section, watch videos on cool science experiments, such as dropping an iPod from space, and even play space-related games such as Martian Mayhem.
There is also a “Cosmo Basics” section, where visitors can learn how old is planet Earth.
His website will be entered in a school district competition, but Joseph says sharing his website is the key to its future success.
“I think spreading it is more important [than awards] because at-risk students can have access to it and they get involved and can get better grades,” he said.
Joseph's brother noted that the website can benefit the 12-year-old's peers and teachers in a lot of ways too.
“Joseph plans to collaborate with his teachers and get more kids involved with the website. That way, they not only learn about science, but they can build their technology skills as well,” Ruiz said.
It also can serve as a way for Joseph’s leadership and collaborative skills to grow, added Ruiz.
Joseph wants to make sure each KIPP charter school in the country uses the website and hopes to enlist students from each of these schools to help maintain it.
“I think that it’s very mature and forward-thinking (of him), said Ruiz proudly of his younger brother. "I’m really surprised that he’s becoming a community-oriented person. He’s always thinking of the other students.”
Joseph likely learned this calling to serve the community from his older brother, a former Big Brother/Big Sister mentor. Ruiz’s influence can be heard in his younger brother's view of education who describes it as something that is “really important because it provides a better quality of life, stability and opportunity.”
Ruiz says that since the start of his seventh grade year, Joseph has been more focused in school and that has helped him earn better grades. It also helped Joseph discover his own passion and creativity, which lead to creating the website.
Joseph plans to continue growing his website and inviting more kids to get involved. But more importantly, he hopes to share with his peers what he’s already learned.
“I learned leadership and how to sacrifice and make my confidence bigger,” Joseph said. “This helps me want to help my community.”