My name is Sara, my family and I moved to North Carolina four years ago from Colorado. When my elementary school aged boys started school here, they noticed technology wasn’t being used much in their new school. Back in Colorado, it was everywhere: kindergartners were using story-making software before they could read, teachers used computer math games to supplement lessons, students learned to read music using iPad applications, technology was everywhere. My oldest regularly begged me, “Mom you have to do something about this I miss Scratch!” (Scratch is a click and drag coding program that was used a reward at their old school.)
I had run a kids robotics club before, so I figured why not start a coding club that would give students exposure to technology that they weren’t getting in the classrooms? I approached the principal, and the Brassfield Coding Club was born. The first year 150 students applied. I had no idea there would be such a widespread desire for kids to learn to code, the schools were lacking resources, the parents and students had the desire, thankfully we were there. Unfortunately, I was only able to accept 25 students that first year. I decided to reach out to the school’s technology specialist to a host code.org Hour of Code workshop, this way we could include more students.
That’s where I met Emily.
Emily was a first grade ESL (English as Second Language) student. I had seen her around the school and been her substitute teacher a few times. She was quiet and shy, the kind of girl who tried to blend into the background so that no one would call on her. When I would say hi to her in the hall, she would look away. Emily attended that first Hour of Code workshop. When she came to my table, she was visibly nervous. Her only exposure to technology was a few spelling and math lessons her teachers had her working on at school. She didn’t even know how to log on to a computer by herself. I got her started on the lesson and left her to help the other students. For a long time, she just sat there quietly, like she always did. Then something beautiful happened, she started laughing. She was clicking away furiously with her mouse; she finished the Hour of Code lesson before anyone else. Then, on her own, she began helping other students. She gave them suggestions, showed them how to solve puzzles, and showed off her work. She belonged in the coding club!
I contacted her parents, but they were unable to get her to school, I gave them websites and programs she could use at home, but her parents couldn’t afford to buy a computer or tablet. I met with her teachers and gave them games and apps to help encourage her. They said they’d try, but like most teachers, they were overloaded. Nothing ever came of it. From time to time I would see Emily around the school, she would run up and give me a huge hug before dashing off with her new friends. I didn’t see her for a long time; I later found out her family moved away.
I had no idea a one-hour computer lesson could impact someone so much. Emily changed that day. She found confidence she never knew she had. Emily discovered a love for learning and problem solving the hadn’t existed before. She realized she could do anything.
From that moment realized every child deserves the chance to have the same experience Emily had. I know not every kid is going to take to coding like Emily did, or turn into computer programmers. But every child deserves the same opportunity, that’s when I started dreaming about Code Ladder. A coding club for all students, not just the ones who can afford computers, laptops, iPads, and expensive after-school enrichment classes. Every student should be able to experience technology and learn the basics of computer science. Not for the subject matter alone, but for what the journey itself teaches. To see failure as a learning experience, to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, to realize you can solve complex problems if you just take it one step at a time, but most importantly to have fun while learning.