coding class

As computer science slowly makes inroads in schools, summer programs multiply

PHOTO: Mary Ellen McIntire
Girls Who Code is one of the summer programs introducing coding to New York City high schoolers, often for the first time.

In the last two weeks, high school students Sabrina Tom, Soraya Sinclair, and Aminata Dieng built a visualization of an iPhone on a computer. It didn’t make calls, but it did take selfies that saved to the desktop.

The students had never written a line of code before starting Summer Hackers Immersion Program, a summer program for high school students. Over four weeks, they learned to use Processing, a coding environment, and built computer games, officially sparking a new interest.

“It was cool to do all these little projects and realize that I had actually created something,” Tom said.

Like other students across the city, they said they struggled to find coding classes at school. While Tom’s school, Bronx Science, offers computer science courses, the rising senior hasn’t fit any into her schedule. Meanwhile, Sinclair attends Millennium Brooklyn High School, which she said doesn’t offer computer science.

Summer programs like SHIP are full of New York City students, a few of whom have access to computer science in school as coding continues to slowly make inroads into students’ classes and class schedules. As the demand for computer science knowledge grows, more learn-to-code summer programs have popped up to meet the demand—and are increasing students’ interest in computer science classes, too.

Take Girls Who Code, a national organization that attracts girls who are already interested in computer science.

Anah Lewi, a rising junior at the Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design, applied to the program after trying out the website Code Academy. Now, she’s spending seven weeks at the AT&T office in Manhattan, taking a Girls Who Code class in which she’s learning four coding languages and meeting high-ranking women in the tech industry.

“I think the world has turned into a very technical place, so it seems like a skill that’s so needed,” Lewi said.

Breakthrough New York added coding classes for its rising ninth graders this summer.
PHOTO: Mary Ellen McIntire
Breakthrough New York added coding classes for its rising ninth graders this summer.

Other programs seek students who don’t know much about coding at all. Breakthrough, a sixy-year college preparation program for students from underserved middle schools, added coding into its program for rising ninth graders this summer.

Rhea Wong, Breakthrough New York’s executive director, said she thought computer science skills would allow the students, who are mostly from low-income neighborhoods, to be more competitive when applying to college.

“I hope that this is the tip of the iceberg. It’s something they can pursue in high school,” Wong said.

That’s true at some city schools, which have coding classes tucked into math and science departments or offer after-school clubs. Cindy Gao, chief of staff of the NYC Foundation for Computer Science Education, said the organization expects its programs to be taught in about 100 city schools this year.

“It started growing quite quickly,” Gao said. “From 28 to 100 is a lot, but 100 of 1,800 schools is just over 5 percent, so there’s still a lot of work to go.”

While the Department of Education couldn’t provide a figure for the number of schools offering computer science classes, 18 other middle and high schools are offering systems engineering classes through a city-run program. The city also has two high schools focused on software engineering, and four of 10 new high schools opening this fall will have a focus on computer science as well.

Another group, Code.org, has offered formal training to 60 high school teachers this summer, and another 60 will start next May. That training takes 15 months, although teachers do start working with students during that time.

Students attending CSTUY-SHIP learned from Stuyvesant High School computer science teachers.
PHOTO: Mary Ellen McIntire
Students attending CSTUY-SHIP learned from Stuyvesant computer science teachers.

Mike Zamansky, the computer science leader at Stuyvesant High School, said the challenges of finding computer science teachers are plentiful. It would take a long time, and plenty of money, to train current teachers to teach even one coding language. It’s also a challenge for schools to fit computer science into the school day.

But another challenge is attracting computer science experts who could be good teachers to the field, because schools that do offer coding use mostly introductory programs, he said. A computer scientist teaching Scratch—an introductory, “drag and drop” coding language—would be like a high school math teacher only teaching arithmetic, he said.

Stuyvesant is the district’s only high school to offer a full series of computer science classes, Zamansky said. So he created CSTUY, a nonprofit designed to reach students outside of Stuyvesant, which operates SHIP.

“If we can’t do it within the system, let’s do what we can outside of the system,” he said. “We can’t do as much outside, but at least we can do something.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story called Breakthrough a three-year summer program. It is in fact a six-year college preparation program that includes a three-year summer program.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.